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Arctic warming may be linked to shifting weather patterns in North America

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, at the University of Colorado, said that Arctic sea ice has hit its annual low on September 16.

aRCTIC REGIONA polar bear is perched on a thick chunk of sea ice north of Greenland. These thicker, older pieces of sea ice don't fully protect the larger region from losing its summer ice cover. (Kristin Laidre/University of Washington via AP)

A 420 foot long advanced U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker called Healy, designed for polar research, currently sails peacefully at the Baffin Bay, located between Baffin Island and the west coast of Greenland. This year’s trip for Healy has not been a difficult one. Electrician master chief Mark Hulen, who traversed the Arctic from Seattle to Baltimore via the Northwest Passage, told the time.com: “We struggled with finding a good enough piece of ice to stand on. Nothing was thick enough.”

The temperatures in the Arctic region have risen about twice as fast as global temperatures. The National Snow and Ice Data Center, at the University of Colorado, said that Arctic sea ice has hit its annual low on September 16.

A study published earlier this month had warned that this warming can lead to extreme cold events in parts of Asia and North America.

“The thick, so-called multiyear ice (sea ice that has survived through at least one summer) is almost gone. It used to fill most of the Arctic Ocean. This year the average ice thickness is near record-low values,” says Jennifer A. Francis, Acting Deputy Director and Senior Scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, US in an email to indianexpress.com.

How will the melting Arctic affect the weather patterns of North America?

“The basic idea is that the rapid warming of the Arctic relative to areas farther south will reduce the north-south temperature difference. This temperature difference is the main force that creates the jet stream, a river of fast-moving wind that encircles the Northern Hemisphere at altitudes where jets fly,” explains Dr. Francis.

She adds that when the north-south temperature difference is large, the jet stream tends to flow fast and relatively straight. But when the temperature difference is smaller, the jet stream weakens and it tends to meander north and south.

“Larger meanders connected with rapid Arctic warming and melting mean that weather conditions in North America and elsewhere around the Northern Hemisphere tend to linger longer, creating more prolonged heat waves, droughts, stormy periods, and cold spells,” she explains.

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When asked if India will see any abnormal weather patterns as a result of this rapid melting, she adds: “The northern part of India may experience more persistent weather conditions associated with Arctic warming, but the monsoon is influenced mainly by processes that work in the tropics.”

One of the Chief Scientists on the Healy, Larry A. Mayer, Professor and Director at the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, University of New Hampshire told the indianexpress.com via email that in addition to creating extreme weather events, the rapid Arctic warming can also make fisheries migrate north. “We are seeing permafrost melting leading to undermining of structures and coastal erosion, severe droughts in North America may also be related to the swings in the jet stream,” he adds.

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Recently, researchers from India and Brazil had noted that Arctic warming also played a role in the recent heatwaves in India.

First published on: 25-09-2021 at 05:19:32 pm
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