The Arctic hits one sad record after the other. Last month, news that the maximum ice extent was the second lowest in the history of records spread through the media. Last week, another anomaly was recorded: a new heat wave hit the Arctic region, especially the North Pole, with temperatures around 18° C above normal. Also, almost all areas of the European and Russian Arctic experienced higher temperature than normal.

Temperatures at the North Pole usually linger around -15°C in May and around -30°C in winter, with variations of course. However, several times in the past winters, unusual warm spikes were recorded. The latest pushed temperatures around the melting point (0°C). This spells trouble for Arctic sea ice. Credit: Michael Wenger
Temperatures at the North Pole usually linger around -15°C in May and around -30°C in winter, with variations of course. However, several times in the past winters, unusual warm spikes were recorded. The latest pushed temperatures around the melting point (0°C). This spells trouble for Arctic sea ice. Credit: Michael Wenger

In four of the past five winters, the North Pole has witnessed dramatic temperatures spikes, which previously were rare. Now, in the lead up to summer, the temperature has again shot up to unusually high levels at the tip of the planet. Scientists say this warming could hasten the melt of Arctic sea ice, which is already near record low levels. In just the past few days, the temperature at the North Pole has soared to the melting point of 0° C, which is about 17-19° C above normal. Much of the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude is abnormally warm. The temperature averaged over the whole region appears to be the warmest on record for the time of year, dating back to at least 1958. It is about 10° C above the normal of minus 16° C. As the warm air intruded the Arctic, sea ice melted suddenly. The Norway Ice Service tweeted the sea ice area near Svalbard, the small island chain between Norway and the North Pole, fell by about 82,000 square kilometers to the second lowest area on record.

The ice chart from the Svalbard area clearly shows that the northern part up to the eastern edge of Nordaustlanded was free of ice on May 7th 2018. Much of the ice has melted of retreated northwards. Chart: Norwegian Ice Service
The ice chart from the Svalbard area clearly shows that the northern part up to the eastern edge of Nordaustlanded was free of ice on May 7th 2018. Much of the ice has melted of retreated northwards. Chart: Norwegian Ice Service

Zachary Labe, a climate scientist at University of California in Irvine, said that such a pulse of warm, moist air into the Arctic can “have a long-lasting fingerprint” that preconditions the ice to melt more rapidly in the summer. Indeed, a study published last year in the Journal of Geophysical Research found that these spring intrusions of warm, moist air can “can initiate sea ice melt that extends to a large area” through the summer and fall. Already, Arctic sea ice is near its lowest extent on record. The Bering and Chukchi seas have never had so little ice in recorded history. Interestingly, while much of the Arctic has turned abnormally warm, the cold air normally entrenched over the region has had to move somewhere. In recent days, it has parked over south central Greenland where temperatures are 30 to 35 degrees colder than normal. Jesper Eriksen, a meteorologist with the Danish Meteorological Institute, tweeted that the temperature at Summit Station, near the top of the Greenland ice sheet, plummeted to minus 44° C, very close to the coldest temperature on record for the month of May of minus 45.6° C.

The temperature anomaly chart clearly shows a surge of heat entering the North Pole region from Europe. The cold air that usually hangs over the region is pushed to the side into Central Greenland and Central Russian coastal areas. The consequences of this heat wave remains to be seen. Chart: Weatherbell.com
The temperature anomaly chart clearly shows a surge of heat entering the North Pole region from Europe. The cold air that usually hangs over the region is pushed to the side into Central Greenland and Central Russian coastal areas. The consequences of this heat wave remains to be seen. Chart: Weatherbell.com

The contrast between frigid air over interior Greenland and unusually mild air over the Arctic is leading to very stormy conditions over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The warming of the Arctic and loss of ice are likely strongly connected to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human activities. On Friday, a NOAA study was published that found that the “extraordinary heat” that affected the Arctic in 2016 “could not have happened without the steep increases in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Source: Jason Samenow, The Washington Post