Temperatures soar above zero as Arctic experiences one of its warmest winters ever

Meanwhile in the UK, the 'Beast from the East' is expected to bring more snow and colder winds

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Tuesday 27 February 2018 02:50 GMT
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An iceberg floats through the water in Ilulissat, Greenland. The Arctic region has had one of the warmest winters on record.
An iceberg floats through the water in Ilulissat, Greenland. The Arctic region has had one of the warmest winters on record. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

While the UK is slammed with the cold snap known as the "Best from the East," it has been one of the warmest winters ever for the Arctic according to scientists.

The relative heat wave has resulted in the warmest February on record since 1958, with temperatures reaching up to 35 F (1.7 C) to 40 F (4.4 C). What has astounded scientists is that no sunlight reaches the ground during this month.

The northernmost land outpost, Cape Morris Jessup, remained above freezing for a full 24 hours on 25 February.

Overall, temperatures in the whole region were above zero C on nine separate days during the month, which has never happened before.

Sea ice usually expands during this time period until at least mid-March, but measurements show that ice in the Bering Sea and just north of Greenland has actually decreased.

"The warm event at [Cape Morris Jessup] is not record breaking in terms of the highest ever recorded temperature in February, but that event in 2011 was very short-lived compared to what we have seen this year," Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told Mashable.

She noted that the duration of the warm temperatures was what was really noteworthy.

Arctic temperatures: Map shows mild conditions in Alaska and Russia

Though the higher temperatures recorded this past month in Greenland could be due to some seasonal winds, that does not explain the region's overall warming.

"I'm pretty surprised by quite how large the temperature anomaly is this year and how persistent," she said.

Scientists do not have temperature recording stations at the North Pole, but they estimate that temperatures reached above 35 F (1.7 C) this last week of the month.

Climate change has already caused a problem in Greenland, where a once-secret military base created by the US during the height of the Cold War for nuclear missile launches has been revealed courtesy of melting ice.

Julienne Stroeve, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado told Mashable that though having warmer winter temperatures is "not uncommon... it may be becoming more common as the climate changes and the ice edge continues to retreat."

She expressed concern that ice melting was not just occurring during summers, but year-round now.

The sudden warming is likely due to a combination of events.

A "sudden stratospheric warming event" is when there is a quick jump in temperatures in the stratosphere. This coupled with a polar vortex, essentially "splitting" those winds into two streams.

One hit the west coast of the US and the other went the way of Siberia and Eurasia, creating what is called the "Beast from the East" which is causing snow in places like Rome and London.

Thus, the incredibly cold air that was supposed to be in the Arctic is dispersed and diluted.

"I think the takeaway is that the dramatic wintertime warming of the Arctic continues in addition to a long-term trend in decreasing sea ice. These effects, along with others, have significant physical, environmental, social, and political consequences for the Arctic and beyond," Zack Labe, a climate scientist at the University of California at Irvine, said.

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