Arctic Ice Melt Seen Doubling Risk of Harsh Winter in EU

Stafan Nicola — Business Week Oct 26, 2014

Arctic ice cap on 27 August 2012. Click to enlarge

Arctic ice cap on 27 August 2012. Click to enlarge

The decline in Arctic sea ice has doubled the chance of severe winters in Europe and Asia in the past decade, according to researchers in Japan.

Sea-ice melt in the Arctic, Barents and Kara seas since 2004 has made more than twice as likely atmospheric circulations that suck cold Arctic air to Europe and Asia, a group of Japanese researchers led by the University of Tokyo’s Masato Mori said in a study published yesterday in Nature Geoscience.

“This counterintuitive effect of the global warming that led to the sea ice decline in the first place makes some people think that global warming has stopped. It has not,” Colin Summerhayes, emeritus associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute, said in a statement provided by the journal Nature Geoscience, where the study is published.

The findings back up the view of United Nations climate scientists that a warmer average temperature for the world will make storms more severe in some places and change the character of seasons in many others. It also helps debunk the suggestion that slower pace of global warming in the past decade may suggest the issue is less of a problem.

“Although average surface warming has been slower since 2000, the Arctic has gone on warming rapidly throughout this time,” he said.

Some 2,000 envoys gathered by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, meet this week in Copenhagen to discuss their most extensive assessment yet of climate science. That report is meant to guide the work of 190 nations meeting in December in Peru to work out a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions after 2020.

Climate Science

A year ago, the IPCC said the rate of global temperature rises since 1998 has been less than half the pace seen since 1951. Scientists say natural variability in the climate can explain some of the slowdown and studies have shown the oceans, too, are absorbing more heat.

The higher frequency of severe winters identified in the Nature Geoscience paper is unlikely to continue because climate warming is expected to outweigh the sea-ice effect toward the end of the 21st century, the researchers said.

To reach their findings, they had performed about 200 computer simulations of the global atmospheric circulation using a model based on two distinct settings for Arctic sea-ice concentrations.