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Global patterns of weather heavily impacted by melting Arctic ice, experts warn

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 27th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The melting of global ice is drastically impacting global patterns of weather and trade as well as the U.S. military's strategic planning, climate experts warn. The majority of the sea ice that forms each fall and winter in the Arctic now melts each spring and summer, sending climate patterns out of whack.

LOS ANGELSS, CA (Catholic Online) - "There are tremendous two-way and multiple interactions between the Arctic and the rest of the world," retired Rear Adm. David Titley said in a teleconference for Climate Nexus, a group trying to heighten awareness about climate change.

The melting ice in the Arctic, these experts say, is directly connected to the recent spate of stormy winter weather in parts of the U.S. and Europe. Experts also note that the prospect of ice-free summers in the Arctic as soon as 2030 has begin to impact international trade and U.S. Navy plans to protect Arctic resources.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that the Arctic sea ice reached its maximum reach for the year on March 15, covering 5.84 million square miles, which is the sixth lowest maximum sea ice coverage in the 35-year satellite record.

"The last 10 years have been the lowest 10 years," research scientist Walt Meier said, adding that while this year was low, "we actually have the largest growth of ice in our record from the minimum to the maximum" primarily because the ice was recovering from the record low in 2012.

Oceanographer Wieslaw Maslowski noted that in addition to the shrinking extent of sea ice that the remaining ice is thinning perhaps twice as fast as the observed ice extent.

Senior scientist with the National Institute Center for Climatic Research, Stephen Vavrus says that the changing sea ice dynamics are perhaps most felt outside of the Arctic via changes in weather patterns.

The melting ice, Vavrus explained, allows heat stored in the ocean to escape to the atmosphere where it changes the pressure patterns, including "the jet-stream level winds that affect our weather in the middle latitudes."

Vavrus' colleagues hypothesize that the warming Arctic causes the jet stream to slow down and meander like a river flowing through the plains. As a result, this transports less warm air over the lands from the oceans.

"That essentially helps to refrigerate the land during the wintertime and we get colder and more snow and more extreme cold as well," Vavrus said. "And we've seen examples of that in this past winter with the slowed westerly wind."

This phenomenon also explains the unusually warm spring in 2012. If a meandering jet stream is like a river, some bends are favorable to cold outbreaks; others are favorable to extreme warmth.

"Just depending on how those jet stream waves happen to set up in a particular week or month or season, that could help to explain why you could get weather extremes of both types," he said.

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