The Arctic Is Experiencing One Of Its Warmest Winters Ever As Temperatures Rise Past Zero


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Surface air temperatures for the Arctic from 1958 to 2018. Used with permission via Zachary Labe

The Arctic appears to be experiencing one of its warmest winters on record as temperatures continue to soar and sea ice drops to an alarmingly low level, in turn causing temperatures in Europe to plummet.

Over the weekend, temperatures above 0°C (32°F) were recorded at Cape Morris Jesup, a weather station at the northernmost point of mainland Greenland. At times, it reached as high as 6.1°C (43°F). This has resulted in open water north of Greenland, where usually the thickest Arctic sea ice would be found.


“It is not refreezing quickly because air temperatures are above zero,” Professor Lars Kaleschke from the University of Hamburg, who specializes in remote sensing of sea ice, wrote on Twitter.

“Wacky weather continues with scary strength and persistence.”


Arctic temperatures right now are at times higher than Europe, which is simultaneously being blasted by cold air from Siberia dubbed the “Beast from the East”.

Graphs shared by Zack Labe from the University of California, Irvine, showed alarming rises in average daily Arctic temperatures, well above the norm.


“The extreme event continues to unfold in the high #Arctic today in response to a surge of moisture and ‘warmth,'” he wrote on Twitter.


However, he noted that we could not confirm this yet as the warmest winter on record, as observations are limited in the Arctic. Available data so far seems to be pointing in that direction, though.

"These warm air intrusion events occur every winter in the Arctic," Labe told IFLScience. "However, this event was particularly anomalous, long-lasting, and widespread in the area. Above average temperatures and low sea ice cover are consistent with the long-term trend of a warming Arctic."

Meanwhile, sea ice extent in the Bering Sea near Alaska continues to decline. The total sea ice extent in the Arctic is at a record low for February in the satellite era, which began in 1979.


During winter, when the Arctic is also in perpetual darkness, temperatures usually hover around the -30°C (-22°F) mark. Temperatures above freezing have only been reported at Cape Morris Jesup for up to 16 hours before, in April 2011, but it has happened for more than 60 hours already in 2018.

"To have zero degrees at the North Pole in February – it's just wrong," Amelie Meyer, a researcher of ice-ocean interactions at the Norwegian Polar Institute, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's quite worrying."

The cause seems to be a weakening polar vortex, which typically keeps high-latitude cold air from warmer air further south. However, warm air is now streaming north, in turn sending cold air southwards. As we noted on Friday, this has resulted in temperatures in Europe that are colder than the Arctic.


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