Snow chaos in Europe caused by melting sea ice in the Arctic


Finnish Meteorological Institute observation station used in the study, Pallas National Park, Arctic Finland. Photo: Jeff Welker
Finnish Meteorological Institute observation station used in the study, Pallas National Park, Arctic Finland. Photo: Jeff Welker

They diligently light thousands of fires on the ground next to their crops, but the French winemakers are fighting a losing battle. An above-average warm spell at the end of March was followed by days of severe frost, destroying the vines with losses, 90 percent above average. The image of struggle may well be the most depressingly beautiful illustration of the complexities and unpredictability of global warming. It is also an agricultural disaster from Bordeaux to Champagne.


It was the loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate warming that, paradoxically, was associated with the severe cold and snowy winters of the middle latitudes.


"Climate change does not always manifest itself in the most obvious way. It's easy to extrapolate models to show that winters are getting warmer and predict a virtually snow-free future in Europe, but our latest study shows that this is too simplistic. We should be wary of making broad, radical statements about the effects of climate change." Says Professor Alun Hubbard from the CAGE Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate Center at the Arctic University of Norway.


The melting of Arctic sea ice provided 88% of the fresh snow


Hubbard is co-author of a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience investigating this illogical climate paradox: a 50% reduction in Arctic sea ice cover increased open and winter evaporation to fuel more extreme snowfall further south across Europe.


The study, led by Dr. Hanna Bailey of the University of Oulu, Finland, more specifically found that the long-term decline in Arctic sea ice since the late 1970s had a direct link to one particular weather event: the "Beast from the East" - the February snowfall that brought much of the European continent to a standstill in 2018, resulting in losses of 1 billion euros per day.



The researchers found that atmospheric vapor and travel south from the Arctic carried a unique geochemical fingerprint, showing that its source was the warm, open surface of the Barents Sea, the part of the Arctic Ocean between Norway, Russia, and Svalbard. They found that during the" Beast from the East", open water conditions in the Barents Sea supplied up to 88% of the corresponding fresh snow blown over Europe.


Professor Alun Hubbard downloads information from an automated weather station in the Barents Sea. Photo: Alun Hubbard
Professor Alun Hubbard downloads information from an automated weather station in the Barents Sea. Photo: Alun Hubbard

Climate warming lifts the lid on the Arctic Ocean


"What we find is that the sea ice is actually a cap on the ocean. And with its long-term decline across the Arctic, we see an increasing amount of moisture entering the atmosphere during winter, which directly affects our weather further south, causing extreme heavy snowfall. It may seem counterintuitive, but nature is complex, and what happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic," Bailey says.


Analyzing the long-term trends of 1979, the researchers found that for every square meter of winter sea ice lost from the Barents Sea, there was a corresponding 70 kg increase in evaporation, moisture, and snow over Europe.


The Beast from the East on March 15, 2018, captured on Aqua MODIS satellite images. Parallel cloud bands ("cloud streets") extending across the southern part of the Barents Sea indicate convection rolls of warm, moist air rising from the ice-free surface. Photo: NASA
The Beast from the East on March 15, 2018, captured on Aqua MODIS satellite images. Parallel cloud bands ("cloud streets") extending across the southern part of the Barents Sea indicate convection rolls of warm, moist air rising from the ice-free surface. Photo: NASA

Their findings suggest that over the next 60 years, the projected ice-free Barents Sea is likely to be a significant source of increased winter precipitation - whether rain or snow-for Europe.


"This study shows that the drastic changes that are happening across the Arctic at the moment are really affecting the entire planet," says Professor Hubbard.

6 views0 comments