Landmark study casts doubt on controversial theory linking melting Arctic to severe winter weather

  • Date: 12/05/21
  • Science Magazine

Even after the massive sea ice loss expected by midcentury, the polar jet stream will only weaken by tiny amounts—at most only 10% of its natural swings.

A weaker, wavier jet stream allows Arctic air to spill south to midlatitudes.
NASA/GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER SCIENTIFIC VISUALIZATION STUDIO

Every time severe winter weather strikes the United States or Europe, reporters are fond of saying that global warming may be to blame. The paradox goes like this: As Arctic sea ice melts and the polar atmosphere warms, the swirling winds that confine cold Arctic air weaken, letting it spill farther south. But this idea, popularized a decade ago, has long faced skepticism from many atmospheric scientists, who found the proposed linkage unconvincing and saw little evidence of it in simulations of the climate.

Now, the most comprehensive modeling investigation into this link has delivered the heaviest blow yet: Even after the massive sea ice loss expected by midcentury, the polar jet stream will only weaken by tiny amounts—at most only 10% of its natural swings. And in today’s world, the influence of ice loss on winter weather is negligible, says James Screen, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter and co-leader of the investigation, which presented its results last month at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union. “To say the loss of sea ice has an effect over a particular extreme event, or even over the last 20 years, is a stretch.”

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see also:

** BBC News: Melting Arctic link to cold, snowy UK winters

** The Independent: Spring snow chaos in Europe ‘caused by melting sea-ice in the Arctic’, scientists say

** The Guardian: Melting Arctic ice triggers winter storms, study finds

** The Guardian: The reduction in Arctic sea ice caused by climate change is playing a role in the UK’s recent colder and drier winter weather, according to the Met Office.

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