in Germany, the winter has seemed strange enough. We had flowers in
bloom at Christmas, and people sneezing with pollen allergies.
Overall it was extremely mild. Now we are just having the odd flurry
of sleet, with the magnolias getting ready to bloom and much of
nature said to be three weeks ahead of schedule. But that is nothing
compared to what’s been going on in the Arctic.
Old Normal is Gone”,
is the headline of a piece on Slate by Eric Holthaus, sub-headed
“February Shatters Global Temperature Records”. He says the
record warmth is so dramatic he is prepared to comment using
unofficial data, before the official data comes out mid-March.
February 2016, he says was probably somewhere between 1.15 and 1.4
degrees Celsius warmer than the long-term average, and about 0.2
degrees above last month, which was itself a record-breaker. This,
Holthaus calculates, means while it took us from the start of
industrialization until last October to reach the first 1 degree C.
of warming, we have now gone up an extra 0.4 degrees in just five
months. Paris target 1.5 degrees maximum – here we come!
the Arctic, this is particularly dramatic. Parts of the Arctic were
more than 16 degrees Celsius warmer than “normal” for the month
of February, which, Holthaus says, is more like June temperatures,
although it would normally be the coldest month.
ice off Svalbard (Pic I.Quaile)
one of my favourite icy places, has averaged 10 degrees Celsius above
normal this winter, with temperatures rising above the freezing mark
on nearly two dozen days since December first.
the Arctic sea ice has reached a record low maximum. Lars Fischer,
writing in the German publication Spektrum
notes that January already saw the smallest ice growth of the last
ten years. In mid-February, he writes, satellite data showed the ice
cover in some parts of the high north was almost a quarter of a
million square kilometers less than ever before on this date. This
lasted two weeks, than the ice grew a little last week, to draw equal
with the previous all time low for a first of March. New ice will be
much thinner than the old multi-year ice, a trend that has been
are using a new technique to gain data about the thinning ice pack in
real time. An article in Nature,
“Speedier Arctic data as warm winter shrinks sea ice”, describes
a new tool to track changes as they happen and provide near real time
estimates of ice thickness from the European Space Agency’s
CryoSat-2 satellite. Previously, there was a time lag of at least a
data is revolutionizing what we know about the Arctic ice. The news
is not good. (Pic. I.Quaile, Tromso)
fluctuation, el Nino or human-made climate change?
course there are those who say fluctuation is natural in the Arctic.
But this year, this fluctuation is extreme. Some researchers say the
melt season started a whole month too early. Certainly, at this time,
the Arctic should be in the grip of winter.
titles his article “Absurd winter in the Arctic”. I’m not sure
absurd is the best way of describing it. (It could actually seem
quite logical if you look at the extent of extra warmth we have been
creating with our greenhouse gas emissions). Looking at an article
in the Independentby
Geoffrey Lean, I see the term “absurdly warm”comes from the
NSIDC, National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado. The
“strangest ever” and “off the chart” are used by NSIDC
director Mark Serreze and NOOA respectively. Those figure.
December 2015, the high Arctic experienced a heatwave. We saw
temperatures near the North Pole going above freezing point. January
was the warmest month since the beginning of weather data. In
February, parts of the Arctic were more than ten degrees warmer than
the long-term average.
Arctic Oscillation is partly to blame. It is currently such that warm
air can make its way north. Strong Atlantic storms have been pressing
the warm, moist air north into the High Arctic. But surely there can
be no doubt that our human-made climate warming is playing a major
role in all this?
remains to be seen how the situation will develop as the spring sets
in. Fisher notes that the last winter ice maximum extent was very
low, but was not followed by a new record low in summer.
Holthaus notes that although we are experiencing a record-setting El
Nino, which “tends to boost global temperatures for as much as six
or eight months beyond its wintertime peak”, this alone cannot be
responsible for the temperature records.
quotes scientific studies indicating that El Nino’s influence on
global temperatures as a whole is likely small, and that its
influence on the Arctic still isn’t well known.
what’s actually happening now is the liberation of nearly two
decades’ worth of global warming energy that’s been stored in the
oceans since the last major El Nino in 1998”, he writes.
no longer just fiction? (I.Quaile, Alaska)
old normal is gone”
the cause – this record warmth is a major event in our climate
system. Holthaus quotes Peter Gleick, a climate scientist at the
Pacific Institute in Oakland, California in his article title: “The
old normal is gone”. “The old assumptions about what was normal
are being tossed out the window”.
could now be right in the heart of a decade or more surge in global
warming that could kick off a series of tipping points with
far-reaching implications”, says Holthaus. Where have I heard this
in the independent, says two new studies by the Woods Hole Research
Center in Massachusetts give new evidence of self-reinforcing
feedback mechanisms. This is not new. How much more evidence do we
need? Permafrost thaws, resulting in emissions of methane and CO2
from the soil. Melting ice means the reflective white surface is
replaced by dark water, which absorbs heat.
what are we doing about it? In interviews with experts from NGOs
including Earthwatch and Germanwatch recently,
various experts have been confirming my own feeling that the Paris
Climate Agreement may have been a milestone, but not necessarily a
turning point – unless climate action is taken very quickly.
would like to be optimistic. But there is so much evidence suggesting
that whatever we do, it is likely to come too late to save the Arctic
as we know – knew – it for coming generations. Come on world,
prove me wrong! Please!
a record winter in many ways, Arctic sea-ice cover seems poised to
reach one of its smallest winter maxima ever. As of 28 February,
ice covered 14.525 million square kilometres, or
938,000 square kilometres less than the 1981–2010
average. And researchers are using a new technique to capture crucial
information about the thinning ice pack in near real time, to better
forecast future changes.
weather patterns and long-term climate trends have conspired to
create an extraordinary couple of months, even by Arctic standards.
“This winter will be the topic of research for many years to come,”
says Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in
New Brunswick, New Jersey. “There’s such an unusual cast of
characters on the stage that have never played together before.”
characters include the El Niño weather pattern that is pumping heat
and moisture across the globe, and the Arctic Oscillation, a
large-scale climate pattern whose shifts in recent months have pushed
warm air northward. Together, they are exacerbating the long-term
decline of Arctic sea ice,
which has shrunk by an average of 3% each February since satellite
records began in 1979.....