It seems like every winter we see the same thing – political cartoons with characters shivering in the cold, praying for global warming, a rise in the taunts from climate skeptics that global warming is a hoax. This year is no different, especially with Europe’s Christmas-time Arctic blast that gave England its coldest December in over 100 years.
The reality is, however, that global warming can in fact make our winters colder. That Arctic chill you complain about as you raise your scarf higher around your neck – it may indeed be a blast of cold air from the high Arctic.
Arctic sea ice has been shrinking, putting polar bears, walruses and other Arctic species in danger. The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado recently reported that the sea ice extent for December was the lowest ever recorded since satellite measurements began.
“Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations.”
So what does the loss of sea ice and the plight of polar bears have to do with cold winters in the Lower 48 and Europe? A lot, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Arctic Report Card for 2010. The NOAA report shows that as sea ice takes longer to form in the fall due to warming, the Arctic atmosphere is exposed to the warming effects of open water. At the same time, more heat from the sun is absorbed by the Arctic Ocean instead of being reflected off the sea ice and back into space. This relative warming in the Arctic (it’s still cold up there!) creates a high pressure system that pushes cold Arctic air down to more southerly latitudes.
NOAA points out, “Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations.”
Climate modeler Vladamir Petroukhov of the Potsdam Climate Institute agrees. He led a study that showed the loss of sea ice north of Scandanavia was correlated with colder winter weather in Europe. As pointed out by Petoukhov, “Whoever thinks that the shrinking of some far away sea-ice won’t bother him could be wrong.”
Taking the Plunge!
Noah Matson is making like a polar bear diving into Washington DC’s chilly Potomac River to raise awareness about climate change’s harmful impacts on Arctic animals like polar bears. Come see Noah and others this Saturday, January 22, at the National Harbor! Click here to learn more.