Climate scientists warn that the rapid and extensive Arctic sea ice melt due to global warming, may cause extreme weather this winter in North America and Europe.
A few months ago, researchers from the University of Reading announced that
Europe's future climate will bring violent Winter storms.
Now, climate scientist Jennifer Francis, a researcher at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University said that
"shrinking Arctic ice can be tied to such recent weather events as prolonged cold spells in Europe, heavy snows in the
Northeastern U.S. and Alaska, and heat waves in Russia."
Previously scientists predicted that it would take 30 or 40 more years before the Arctic was ice-free in the summer,
Los Angeles Times reports.
However, since 2005 the rate of summer melt increased enormously and today scientists say Arctic ice covers about 1 million square miles
"I think that what we can expect in the next few years is further collapse leading to an ice-free Arctic in summer.
It really is a dramatic change," said Peter Wadhams, an ocean physics professor at the University of Cambridge
"The loss of Arctic ice has several effects. Ice reflects heat and solar energy back into space.
With less ice cover, that heat energy is instead absorbed by the ocean, which warms and melts more ice.
Currently, the Arctic region is the fastest-warming region on the planet, and the change in temperature will probably influence weather patterns here and in
Europe, according to Francis.
The heating and cooling of Arctic seawater has been affecting the jet stream -- the river of air that flows from west to east high above the Earth's surface --
and has slowed it down, Francis said.
The jet stream controls the formation and movement of storm systems, so when its movement slows, weather conditions persist for longer periods of time
over the same area. They get "stuck."
"If you're in a nice dry pattern with sunny skies, it's great if it lasts for a few days. But If it lasts for a few weeks, well then you're starting to
talk about a drought," Francis said. "If you have a rainy pattern and it hangs around for a long time, then that becomes a situation that could lead to flooding."
Arctic warming will influence weather to the south during the late fall and winter. While Francis said it would probably result in severe weather this
winter, it was impossible to predict when and where those events would occur.
Record ice melts this year and in 2007 have alarmed many scientists, mostly because they thought it would take many more years to reach this state.
James Overland, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said forecasts failed to account for the physics of lost
solar energy reflection and warming ocean water.
"These are really surprises to most scientists," Overland said. "In looking at climate models that are used to look forward, they've tended to say
the Arctic may be ice-free by 2040 or 2050. It looks like things are happening a lot faster, and it's because not all of the physics that we're seeing
today were well-handled in these climate models."
Overland, who is also an associate professor at the University of Washington's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, said these effects are known as
"Arctic amplification" and would carry heavy consequences for wildlife like polar bears and walruses by reducing their habitat.
The sea ice in the Arctic Ocean dropped below the previous all-time record set in 2007.
This year also marks the first time that there has been less than 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles) of sea ice since satellite
observations began in 1979. This animation shows the 2012 time-series of ice extent using sea ice concentration data from the DMSP SSMI/S satellite sensor.
The black area represents the daily average (median) sea ice extent over the 1979-2000 time period. Layered over top of that are the daily satellite
measurements from January 1 -- September 14, 2012. A rapid melt begins in July, whereby the 2012 ice extents fall far below the historical average
The frozen cap of the Arctic Ocean appears to have reached its annual summertime minimum extent and broken a new record low on Sept. 16, the National Snow and
Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has reported. Analysis of satellite data by NASA and the NASA-supported NSIDC at the University of Colorado in Boulder showed that the
sea ice extent shrunk to 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers).
The new record minimum measures almost 300,000 square miles less than the previous lowest extent in the satellite record, set in mid-September 2007, of 1.61
million square miles (4.17 million square kilometers). For comparison, the state of Texas measures around 268,600 square miles.
NSIDC cautioned that, although Sept. 16 seems to be the annual minimum, there's still time for winds to change and compact the ice floes, potentially reducing
the sea ice extent further. NASA and NSIDC will release a complete analysis of the 2012 melt season next month, once all data for September are available.
Satellite data reveal how the new record low Arctic sea ice extent, from Sept. 16, 2012, compares to the average minimum extent over the past 30 years
(in yellow). Sea ice extent maps are derived from data captured by the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer aboard NASA's Nimbus-7 satellite and
the Special Sensor Microwave Imager on multiple satellites from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. Credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio
Arctic sea ice cover naturally grows during the dark Arctic winters and retreats when the sun re-appears in the spring. But the sea ice minimum
summertime extent, which is normally reached in September, has been decreasing over the last three decades as Arctic ocean and air temperatures
have increased. This year's minimum extent is approximately half the size of the average extent from 1979 to 2000. This year's minimum extent also
marks the first time Arctic sea ice has dipped below 4 million square kilometers.
"Climate models have predicted a retreat of the Arctic sea ice; but the actual retreat has proven to be much more rapid than the predictions,"
said Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "There continues to be considerable inter-annual
variability in the sea ice cover, but the long-term retreat is quite apparent."
The thickness of the ice cover is also in decline.
"The core of the ice cap is the perennial ice, which normally survived the summer because it was so thick", said Joey Comiso, senior scientist
with NASA Goddard. "But because it's been thinning year after year, it has now become vulnerable to melt".
The disappearing older ice gets replaced in winter with thinner seasonal ice that usually melts completely in the summer.
UPDATE: Huge Stripe On The Sun - Is Earth In Serious Danger? UPDATE: This article has now been updated with additional information from NASA including images and video!
The Sun's odd behavior has been mentioned on many occasions recently. As we all await the Solar Cycle 24, scientists keep a close eye on the Sun.
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