What happens in the Arctic, stays in the Arctic

Wave after wave of bizarre weather has ravaged the Northern Hemisphere, but don’t blame the Arctic, scientists say

Still dangerous, if only locally (Photo: Nasa)

Lesley Price

Recent reports of droughts in California, warmer winters in Alaska and a freezing over of the American Mid-west have led many to believe that a warming Arctic is causing extreme weather phenomena across the Northern Hemisphere. Scientists, however say there is no scientific evidence to support the fact.

“The Arctic is leading the way in climate change – we’ve known that since the late 19th century, and of course, it’s going to be in the Arctic where this change in most pronounced,” said Mark Serreze, a professor at the University of Colorado and the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC).

“The big science questions is, does climate change have a significant effect on weather and climate beyond the Arctic – and the simple answer is, we still don’t know.”

Serreze explained the rapid loss of ice cover has caused a rapid rise in air temperatures over the Arctic and the rest of the planet, known as Arctic amplification. However, the links between Arctic ice loss and the “crazy winter weather patterns” throughout the Northern hemisphere are still unknown and currently “very controversial”.

“You have a number of scientists out there who are very strong advocates for this point of view, but I tend to be circumspect about it,” he said. “We need more data and more time to actually see if these argued links are valid.”

Professor Tim Ball, an environmentalist and the author of the Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science, agreed, saying the current weather patterns “have been identified since the 1940s” and are “completely normal”.

Calm before the storm?
Both called the current media hype about the ‘polar vortex’, the spate of extreme cold weather in the US earlier this month, “nonsense”. However, Serreze said weather “is not always a straightforward issue”. He could see some arguments for Arctic sea ice loss potentially effecting weather patterns during autumn.

He explained that as ocean ice melts, the dark open water areas absorb a vast amount of solar energy and at end of the melt season there is increased heat trapped in the ocean that eventually re-enters the atmosphere.

“The heating of the atmosphere works through a fairly deep layer of the atmosphere, deep enough that you might be able to change the behaviour of the jet-stream and that may have links to dramatic weather patterns,” he said.

“If you’re changing the temperature gradient, the atmospheric circulation will respond, that’s the argument, but you’re going to see that in autumn. The affect of the Arctic on atmospheric heating in the winter is not going to be that significant.”

A hot political statement?
Ball, however, disagreed. He said there have been record lows in the Arctic in August, September and October this year, yet “nobody is reporting on these things because the media is biased. The cold currents do get some attention, but it’s all focused on the warming”.

Ball blamed the media for “creating the illusion that everyday weather is unnatural or unusual” and that “severe weather has actually declined”.

“Every time there is a storm anywhere, the media report it, and the impression created amongst the public is that their number is on the rise. It was always there, you just never used to hear about it,” he said.

“None of this is new or abnormal, nor is it caused by humans, however, the mythology and exploitation of it for political agendas is.”

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

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