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article imageArctic sea ice loss not responsible for extreme cold winters

By Karen Graham     Aug 20, 2019 in Science
The dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice through climate change has only a "minimal influence" on severe cold winter weather across Asia and North America, new research has shown.
In a study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from the University of Exeter, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and the Energy and Sustainability Research Institute in Groningen, shed new light on the link between Arctic sea-ice loss and cold winters.
There is a link between Arctic sea ice loss and extremely cold weather, but this is seen further south than in the mid-latitudes. However, the new research suggests unusually cold winters in the mid-latitudes of North America and Asia are both caused by large changes in atmospheric circulation, which move warm air to the north and cold air to the south.
Previous research suggested that the polar ice lost could be causing the chilly southern temperatures - based on the assumption that because ice loss leaves large areas of the ocean ice-free, the ocean loses heat into the atmosphere - leading to temperature changes far away. But climate change models did not support this cause-and-effect theory, reports CBC Canada.
Heavy snow and blizzard conditions persisted in much of Europe  where the cold snap has caused some ...
Heavy snow and blizzard conditions persisted in much of Europe, where the cold snap has caused some 60 deaths and wrought transport havoc, forcing many commuters to walk, such as here outside Glasgow in Scotland
Andy Buchanan, AFP
Using sophisticated climate modeling experiments, the researchers found that the observations and models agreed that reduced regional sea ice and cold winters often coincide which each other. But they found both were simultaneously driven by the same, large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns.
Dr. Russell Blackport, a Mathematics Research Fellow at the University of Exeter and lead author of the paper said: "The correlation between reduced sea ice and cold winters does not mean one is causing the other. We show that the real cause is the changes in atmospheric circulation, which moves warm air into the Arctic and cold air into the mid-latitudes."
So basically, this means that our extremely cold winters are likely caused by random fluctuations in the atmospheric circulation, even though climate change is the culprit in the loss of Arctic sea ice.
File photo: Downtown Minneapolis from one of the skyways during what turned out to be one of the nas...
File photo: Downtown Minneapolis from one of the skyways during what turned out to be one of the nastiest blizzards in over a decade.
Nic McPhee (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Professor James Screen, an Associate Professor in Climate Science at the University of Exeter said: "The are many reasons to be concerned about the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice, but an increased risk of severe winters in North America and Asia is not one of them."
John Fyfe, a research scientist with the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis who was not involved in the research, wrote a commentary to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. He writes: The research "puts to rest the notion that Arctic sea-ice loss caused the cold mid-latitude winters."
Fyfe does pose an additional question which needs answering. He writes: "A fair question remaining to be answered is: what is behind these cooling-favorable circulation changes? Are they chance manifestations of a chaotic atmosphere, or are they due to some other remote forcing?"
More about arctic sea ice loss, winter weather, midlatitudes, atmospheric circulation
 
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