While the headline may not be exact as of the time of publishing, air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have been far, far warmer in recent times than is “normal.” To be more precise, temperatures in the Arctic were around 20° Celsius (36° Fahrenheit) warmer than is normal for this time of year — apparently as a result of 1) record-low sea ice extent in the region for this time of year, and 2) warm/wet air from further south being drawn towards the North Pole as a result of a “very wavy jet stream.”
Global sea ice extent extremely low. Mimimum records seen both in the Arctic and Antarctica. Red line nov.18 show someting is very wrong. pic.twitter.com/KYBHauqeR7
— Svein Tveitdal (@tveitdal) November 20, 2016
In reply to a query from the Washington Post, an Arctic specialist at Rutgers University by the name of Jennifer Francis stated: “It’s about 20° Celsius (36° Fahrenheit) warmer than normal over most of the Arctic Ocean, along with cold anomalies of about the same magnitude over north-central Asia.”
Explaining why: “The Arctic warmth is the result of a combination of record-low sea-ice extent for this time of year, probably very thin ice, and plenty of warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a very wavy jet stream.”
Notably, the Rutgers University researcher has previously published work that suggests that the jet stream is possibly becoming more elongated and wavy, as a result of the Arctic warming faster than lower latitudes.
“It will be fascinating to see if the stratospheric polar vortex continues to be as weak as it is now, which favors a negative Arctic Oscillation and probably a cold mid/late winter to continue over central and eastern Asia and eastern North America. The extreme behavior of the Arctic in 2016 seems to be in no hurry to quit,” Francis stated.
So, to explain the situation more here, the Arctic is currently entering Polar Night — meaning that there’s barely any sunlight warming the region up. And yet, temperatures have remained relatively high as a result of the wavy jet stream. And, perhaps more notably, sea ice extent in the Arctic is at a record low for this time of year. (For more, see our recent article on 2016 being likely to be the hottest year on record.)
That all means that 2017 may well end up being a new record year for Arctic sea ice extent (lowest extent recorded to date). Though, of course, we’ll have to wait to see on that count. A sign of things to come, though.
Most will probably remember that there was a widely reported heat spell in the Arctic last winter, which brought temperatures near the North Pole nearly to the melting point.
Going by events such as these, it may well be less than a decade before we see an ice-free Arctic during the summer months.
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