By Elisa Jiménez Alonso
February should be one of the coldest months in the Arctic, however, it seems the North Pole is running a fever this year. With average temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius above normal, the current weather is being described as an extreme event by experts.
Zack Labe, a PhD candidate at the University of California, has been sharing data from his research online and it shows worrying signs and trends. While Arctic temperatures have reached record highs for this time of year, Arctic sea ice has reached record lows.
The extreme event continues to unfold in the high #Arctic today in response to a surge of moisture and "warmth"
— Zack Labe (@ZLabe) February 25, 2018
— Zack Labe (@ZLabe) February 26, 2018
While warm weather intrusions have happened in the past, they used to be a rarity. Speaking to the Washington Post, Robert Graham from the Norwegian Polar Institute said “It happened in four years between 1980-2010, but has now occurred in four out of the last five winters.” A study released last July confirms that since 1980 these warming events have become more frequent and last longer than they used to.
The warm temperatures are intrinsically linked to the rapid loss of sea ice. In mid-February this year, global sea ice extent fell to its lowest level ever measured. This decline has long been described as one the Earth’s most important tipping points: As the reflective white ice melts due to rising temperatures, it exposes the darker ocean surface which more easily absorbs heat warming up ocean waters and melting even more ice.
As a result of retreating sea ice, Cape Morris Jesup, at the very northern tip of Greenland, has had over 60 hours of above freezing temperatures since the beginning of 2018.
There is open water north of #Greenland where the thickest sea ice of the #Arctic used to be. It is not refreezing quickly because air temperatures are above zero confirmed by @dmidk's weather station #KapMorrisJesup. Wacky weather continues with scary strength and persistence. pic.twitter.com/YMnvCD8XvL
— Lars Kaleschke (@seaice_de) February 25, 2018
Meanwhile, Europe is experiencing particularly cold weather. This, odd as it may sound, is also linked to the warm Arctic temperatures. As pressure builds up over Scandinavia, winds that flow clockwise around such high-pressure systems drag cold Siberian air over Europe. Northern and Eastern Europe are set to feel the brunt of this cold spell, with conditions lasting 10 days or longer.