Melting Arctic ice may drive extreme weather

March 27, 2013

New research by Steve Vavrus, a senior scientist in the Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research, links ice loss in the Arctic to increased extreme weather, such as drought, flooding, cold spells and heat waves, in much of the United States.

Vavrus and Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University, have explored the atmospheric response and weather impacts of widespread Arctic warming. Over the past few decades the Arctic has warmed approximately twice as rapidly as the entire northern hemisphere, the scientists note, with Arctic sea ice hitting record lows in September 2012.

sea ice patterns in arctic ocean credit NASA Kathryn Hansen
New research links ice loss in the Arctic to increased
extreme weather. Photo: NASA/Kathryn Hansene

Their analysis suggests that enhanced Arctic warming and subsequent changes in jetstream-level winds are one of the causes of many types of extreme weather, which global climate models project will increase in frequency and intensity as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.

The effects are particularly evident in autumn and winter, consistent with sea ice loss, but are also apparent in summer – possibly related to earlier snow melt on high-latitude land.

The findings were published in 2012 in Geophysical Research Letters and also discussed at a March 26, 2013, news conference hosted by the environmental organization Climate Nexus.

Vavrus has commented on the research in a number of media outlets; below is a collection of news coverage: