The rapidly warming Arctic could have a “catastrophic” effect on the planet’s climate, a leading scientist has warned.
Dr Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in California, said there was a growing body of “pretty scary” evidence that higher temperatures in the Arctic were driving the creation of dangerous storms in parts of the northern hemisphere.
Since about 10 February, the area covered by sea ice has been noticeably below any of the last 30 years as the Arctic has experienced record-breaking temperatures of about 4C higher than the 1951-1980 average for the region.
Dr Gleick posted: “What is happening in the Arctic now is unprecedented and possibly catastrophic.” Among the “scary” possibly consequences is that the warming Arctic is altering weather systems for much of the northern hemisphere – and not in a good way.
“Changes in ice extent and volume may all be reflected in weather patterns in mid-latitudes. In 2015, a phenomenon called the polar vortex and unusual patterns of jet stream flow brought record-breaking hot and cold weather to different parts of the US,” Dr Gleick wrote. “Massive storms, sometimes called ‘bomb cyclones’, are created when warm air from the Atlantic and cold air from the Arctic combine. Just this season, massive flooding associated with one of these storms struck the United Kingdom producing record rainfall.
“There may be connections between out-of-season strong tornados in the central US and these new storm patterns. The central US was hit by unusual numbers of tornados in December 2015 causing billions in damage and many deaths.
“Part of the science on this suggests that as the Arctic warms faster, the difference in temperature between the mid-latitudes and the Arctic region decreases. This, in turn, affects storm tracks and the location and strength of the jet stream.”
The reduced amount of white ice also means less energy from the Sun is reflected back into space. Water, which is darker than ice, absorbs more energy and increases the rate of warming.