Tuesday, April 20

How melting Arctic ice is driving more snow over Europe


Much of Europe has enjoyed warmer-than-usual temperatures in recent days, but an unusually cold front is approaching bringing snow and potential disruptions.

The UK, for example, has had record temperatures in some areas for the time of year, and the Met Office has indicated that a “big change” is coming over Easter weekend.

It will be “much colder than usual” and “much wetter too” early next week, according to forecaster Alex Deakin, who said “very cold air is on its way” from the Arctic.

What exactly is driving this strange weather?

“We cannot know until the meteorological event has occurred,” Alun Hubbard, professor of glaciology at UiT, the Arctic University of Norway, told Euronews.

But a new study published by Hubbard and colleagues in the journal Nature Geoscience, it might contain some clues.

Melting Arctic ice fed the Beast from the East

The team tracked Arctic water vapor in real time in 2018 and followed it when it ended as massive snowstorms that covered much of Europe that year in an event dubbed the Beast from the East.

They used an isotopic fingerprint geochemical technique to do this: because the isotopes in water vapor from melting snow are different from those in sea water vapor, they were able to quantify exactly how much excess moisture had been released from the sea of Barents during this period. .

“A hundred years ago, even 40 years ago in winter, the Barents Sea would be frozen. Now it has warmed, it has become salty, it has become a much stronger source of evaporative moisture, “said Hubbard, who explained that the ice acts as a” cover “on the ocean, preventing it from evaporating.

About 140 gigatons of water evaporated from the sea, or 88% of the moisture that fell as snow on Europe, according to the team’s calculations.

The storm wreaked havoc across much of northern Europe in February and March 2018, costing the UK economy alone more than € 1 billion a day.

While the study cannot prove that the strange weather looming in Europe is a direct result of the same phenomenon, it cautions that if current warming trends continue, the ice-free Barents Sea will be a major source of moisture for continental Europe. .

“We use the Beast from the East to illustrate as a case study what happens,” says Hubbard.

“The Beast from the East is embedded in our memory, Heathrow was closed, people died, people were trapped on the highways,” says Hubbard.

“While we don’t see it every year, what it means is that there will be a lot more snowfall associated with these events in the future.”

The Arctic thaw is affecting Europe now

He adds that while the public becomes “saturated” with warnings about climate change, it can often feel like something that is happening far away. But the melting of Arctic ice, as this study shows, has serious effects on Europa.

“People feel isolated and removed from the real effects of what is happening,” says Hubbard.

“And okay, we are having hotter summers. But it’s all part of a more extreme climate. Extreme weather is very bad for infrastructure, it paralyzes countries, very bad for agriculture, it is really creating a more inhospitable place ”.

He points out that it is a global phenomenon. When the United States was hit by unprecedented cold weather last winter, an event in which the Texas power grid was overwhelmed by the need for additional heating, it was a similar phenomenon.

“Texas was getting these crazy, crazy cold temperatures with bouts of arctic cold, and it’s carrying more moisture because sea ice is disappearing north of North America as well.”

Now, when these cold weather events with high humidity levels come from the Arctic region in March or April, “when traditionally the sea ice would have been at its maximum extent”, we will know that it will be at least “partially driven by what is happening. in the Arctic and the reduction of sea ice there, ”he adds.

“It really is like a forensic investigation at a crime scene, where there is very little evidence, so you have to piece together the story. We did very well and very conclusively in this study.

“This geochemical tracing of the steam that came from the Arctic is almost like getting irrefutable proof of this effect. It is something that people have been talking about and speculating about for a long time, but for the first time what we have shown is that what happens in the Arctic has a great influence in the lower latitudes, southern Europe and the United Kingdom. ” .


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