Study finds possible link between Arctic change and extreme mid-latitude weather

Mosaic of images of the Arctic by MODIS. Credit: NASA

( —A team of researchers with members from Europe and the U.S. has found a possible link between Arctic amplification and severe weather in the northern mid-latitude parts of the planet. In their paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers describe how they conducted a review of the findings of other researchers looking for a connection between Arctic warming and extreme weather events and what they found as a result.

For the past several years planetary have begun to wonder if Arctic warming is causing changes to weather in the northern mid-latitudes. They note, as just one example, the exceedingly harsh 2013/14 winter—very low temperatures in parts of North America and well above average rainfall in parts of Europe.

Scientists have grown concerned as measurements have indicated that the Arctic is warming faster than expected—twice as fast as the rest of the planet (Arctic amplification), which means snow and ice is melting faster than expected as well. During the same time period, the mid-latitudes have experienced some unusual weather—stronger storms, colder winters and hotter summers. Several groups have looked to see if a discernible link between the two trends could be found. And while no single team has been able to find concrete evidence, many have found what appears to an indirect link. In this new effort, the researchers suggest that such studies, when looked at as a single entity, provide a strong case for such a link, and they even suggest how: changes to the jet stream, to storm tracks and to planetary waves and their associated energy propagation.

Taken together, the researchers report, the data indicates that a weaker temperature gradient between the Arctic region and the northern latitudes, is leading to changes in the atmosphere in the and because of that, unpredictable changes to weather patterns.

The researchers are careful to note that despite the mounting evidence of an Arctic-northern latitude weather link, the degree to which it is likely occurring remains highly uncertain. They suggest more research be undertaken and more models developed to help better understand what a fast warming Arctic may mean for the northern hemisphere in general as the future unfolds.

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Arctic warming linked to fewer European and US cold weather extremes, study shows

More information: Recent Arctic amplification and extreme mid-latitude weather, Nature Geoscience (2014) DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2234

The Arctic region has warmed more than twice as fast as the global average—a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. The rapid Arctic warming has contributed to dramatic melting of Arctic sea ice and spring snow cover, at a pace greater than that simulated by climate models. These profound changes to the Arctic system have coincided with a period of ostensibly more frequent extreme weather events across the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes, including severe winters. The possibility of a link between Arctic change and mid-latitude weather has spurred research activities that reveal three potential dynamical pathways linking Arctic amplification to mid-latitude weather: changes in storm tracks, the jet stream, and planetary waves and their associated energy propagation. Through changes in these key atmospheric features, it is possible, in principle, for sea ice and snow cover to jointly influence mid-latitude weather. However, because of incomplete knowledge of how high-latitude climate change influences these phenomena, combined with sparse and short data records, and imperfect models, large uncertainties regarding the magnitude of such an influence remain. We conclude that improved process understanding, sustained and additional Arctic observations, and better coordinated modelling studies will be needed to advance our understanding of the influences on mid-latitude weather and extreme events.

Journal information: Nature Geoscience

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Citation: Study finds possible link between Arctic change and extreme mid-latitude weather (2014, August 18) retrieved 18 July 2019 from
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Aug 18, 2014
I'm sure the fact that the polar vortex has started to move into lower latitudes every few months is major factor. When it moves south a much larger surface area gets exposed to more direct sunlight causing it to warm, then it goes back to the arctic carrying that warmer air with it.

Correct me if im wrong, but wasn't the last time the planet had ice caps was back in the Permian? If so maybe the polar vortex itself is a relatively recent development of our atmosphere and with our atmosphere getting more chaotic it's reaching a more equalized temperature gradient, at least on a global scale.

Aug 18, 2014
@Steve, great comment. Vortices are very efficient movers of heat. This seems to have escaped the scientists above. Smaller area, more homogeneous vortex, equals accelerated "warming."
This is, I think, the first stage of real GW. Where the Earth's ice is no longer a sufficient buffer against our release of heat. Things are officially interesting. We will see if our efforts to curb GW: Ethanol, large scale solar and wind can turn the tide, are sufficient.

Aug 18, 2014
"The researchers are careful to note that despite the mounting evidence of an Arctic-northern latitude weather link, the degree to which it is likely occurring remains highly uncertain."

Well, yes - the actual degree of "certainty" to which they are linked might just be important. How can you have have "mounting evidence" with unknown degrees or certainty. I'm so tired of all these kinds of "studies" that "might" show "possible links." I must have read five or six just today of similar 'iffy" kinds of study results. Studies that no science journal would have published a few decades ago. Hey guys - call me when you have some real science and some definitive proof.

Aug 18, 2014
"Arctic amplification"... I guess "Antarctic amplification" is not in fashion anymore (due to "obvious" differences in geography!)

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