Arctic heat wave could break all records by 20C

  • By Aliyah Malik
  • Main Image Rights: University of Maine

Scientists say that the 24th December temperatures at the North Pole this year could be at a 1’000 year high


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Climate scientists say the current unseasonably warm weather patterns in the Arctic region are directly linked to man-made climate change. With today’s temperature reaching 20 degrees Celsius above the average temperatures for this time of year.

Temperatures throughout November and December 2016 were 5C higher than average.

This follows a summer during which Arctic sea ice reached the second-lowest extent ever recorded by satellites.

Dr Friederike Otto, a senior researcher at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute explained that in pre-industrial times “a heatwave like this would have been extremely rare, we would expect it to occur about every 1’000 years”.

Dr Otto added that scientists are “very confident” that the weather patterns were linked to anthropogenic climate change.

“We have used several different climate modelling approaches and observations. In all our methods, we find the same thing; we cannot model a heatwave like this without the anthropogenic signal.”

Temperatures are forecast to peak today at zero degrees Celsius.

The warm air from the North Atlantic is forecast to flow all the way to the North Pole via Spitsbergen, giving rise to clouds that prevent heat from escaping.

As Dr Otto explained, the reduction in sea ice is contributing to this “feedback loop”.



“If the globe is warming, then the sea ice and ice on land [shrinks] then the darker water and land is exposed Then the sunlight is absorbed rather than reflected as it would be by the ice.”

Forecasting models show that there is about a 2% chance of a heatwave event occurring every year.

“But if temperatures continue to increase further as they are now,” said Dr Otto, “we would expect a heatwave like this to occur every other year and that will be a huge stress on the ecosystem.”

Dr Thorsten Markus, chief of NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, said the heatwave was “very, very unusual. The eerie thing is that we saw something quite similar (temperatures at the North Pole of about 0C in December) almost exactly a year ago.” 

The freeze and thaw conditions are already making it difficult for reindeer to find food, as the moss they feed on is covered by hard ice, rather than soft, penetrable snow.


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A.Malik@theinternational.org.uk