Is Melting Sea Ice Causing This Cold Weather?

Don’t blame the groundhog: melting sea ice may be behind these cold spring temperatures.

Recent research suggests that receding ice in the Arctic may be causing this colder-than-usual weather this late in the year.

Climate scientist Jiping Liu points to a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 that found evidence that, strangely, less ice means colder temperatures.

It’s a bit bizarre, but decreasing Arctic sea ice, National Geographic explained, messes with atmospheric circulation that actually creates more ice and snow. Ice in the polar regions constrains Arctic wind to the top of the planet. This allows the jet stream, the cool winds that regulate temperature in the Northern Hemisphere, to dip further down south, lowering temperatures across the hemisphere, and postponing spring, causing some to call for the head of Punxsutawney Phil.

“For the past few winters, large parts of Asia, North America and Europe experienced these cold conditions above normal snowfall,” Liu, of the University of Albany, told National Geographic. “When we started to explore the reason why, our study suggested it was the decline of Arctic sea ice.”

This diminishing sea ice also leads to more snow later in the year. Arctic ice locks in ocean water, which, without the ice, is able to evaporate more freely. This extra moisture in the air means more precipitation, which in the cold, comes out of the sky in the form of snow.

But if you’re sick of all this cold weather, don’t worry, we’re in for warmer summers too. A 2012 study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that this diminishing sea ice and increased greenhouse gases will also mean hotter temperatures in summer months.

“Simulations suggest,” the researchers write, “that these summertime highs will intensify in the twenty-first century as a result of an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.”

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