Ladies and gentlemen, have you heard the latest news? Well, a recent study, conducted by NASA, has revealed that a large cyclone that crossed the Arctic in December 2015 brought so much heat and humidity to this otherwise frigid and dry environment that it thinned and shrunk the sea ice cover during a time of the year when the ice should have been growing thicker and stronger.
Here’s what happened – according to the experts, the cyclone formed in the middle of the North Atlantic, and traveled to the United Kingdom and Iceland before entering the Arctic on Dec. 30, lingering in the area for several days. Unfortunately, the extremely warm and humid air mass associated with the cyclone caused an amount of energy equivalent to the power used in one year by half a million American homes to be transferred from the atmosphere to the surface of the sea ice in the Kara-Barents region. As a result, the area’s sea ice thinned by almost 4 inches (10 centimeters) on average. At the same time, the storm winds pushed the edges of the sea ice north, compacting the ice pack.
Linette Boisvert, lead author of the study and a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said:
“During the cyclone, the sea ice retreated northward, causing a loss in coverage equaling the area of the state of Florida.”
Dr. Boisvert and her colleagues used data from NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard the Aqua satellite to study the atmospheric effects of this storm on the sea ice, specifically the evolution of air temperature and humidity during the storm. They also compared the cyclone to other extreme events from past winters since 2003, the year AIRS began to collect data. She also mentioned that they measured against other extreme winter events that have happened in the Kara-Barents seas region over the AIRS period, and this one was the warmest. The AIRS time period also coincides with the warmest decade on record, so this storm being the hottest is a big deal.
Usually, during the Arctic winter the atmosphere and surface of the ice are very cold, while the exposed ocean waters are warmer, so there’s a heat transfer from the ocean to atmosphere. During the cyclone, the pattern was inverted and heat traveled from the atmosphere to the surface of the ice. After the storm, the weather in the Kara-Barents seas region remained warmer than average for January, leading scientists to believe this cyclone prevented the sea ice from recovering.
The researchers also mentioned that during the months of January, February and March of this year, Arctic sea ice presented the lowest monthly extents in the satellite record, which were largely driven by abnormally low ice levels in the Kara and Barents seas. Alek Petty, a co-author of the study and a sea ice researcher at Goddard mentioned that in this study, they found that the thinnest ice was completely melted out by the storm. He also mentioned that in the coming years, if we start with a thinner winter ice pack we’ll see extreme events like these cause even bigger melt-outs across the Arctic. Thank you for reading and don’t forget to share it with your friends and family.