Melting Arctic Sea Ice May Actually Cause Colder Northern Winters

winter lake photo

photo: m.prinke/Creative Commons

Keep this next quick one in mind the next time you start wondering if all that snow falling this winter might mean global warming isn't actually happening: Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research say that melting Arctic sea ice may lead to colder winters in northern latitudes--in fact the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and northern Asia could be tripled. Lead researcher Vladimir Petoukhov notes, "Recent severe winters like last year's or the one of 2005-2006 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it."

How might this happen? As the sea-ice in the eastern Arctic melts, those sea surfaces without ice cover lose warmth to the cold and windy atmosphere. This leads to strong anomalies in the atmospheric airstream.

From the Potsdam Institute summary:

"Our simulations reveal a rather pronounced nonlinear response of air temperatures and winds to the changes of sea-ice cover," Petoukhov, a physicist, says. "It ranges from warming to cooling to warming again, as sea ice decreases." An abrupt transition between different regimes of the atmospheric circulation in the sub-polar and polar regions may be very likely. Warming of the air over the Barents-Kara Sea seems to bring cold winter winds to Europe. "This is not what one would expect," Petoukhov says. "Whoever thinks that the shrinking of some far away sea-ice won't bother him could be wrong. There are complex teleconnections in the climate system, and in the Barents-Kara Sea we might have discovered a powerful feedback mechanism."

More info: Global warming could cool down temperatures in winter
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More on Global Climate Change:
The Clearest 5 Minute Lesson on Arctic Ice Melt You'll Get
Increased Arctic Shipping means Even More Warming & Less Ice
Melting Arctic Ice Increases Permafrost Farther Inland Than Previously Thought
NASA Satellite Data Reveals Arctic Melting Season Now Nearly a Month Longer

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