Stormier Arctic Predicted as Ice Melts

Rebecca Carroll
for National Geographic News
October 15, 2009

The Arctic may be largely ice free in summer within ten years, according to a report released today. And disappearing ice means more than just open seas.

For one thing, melting ice could lead to stormier seas and skies around the North Pole, according to a recent, separate study.

The storm researchers used an atmospheric model to predict changes in Arctic weather as the North Pole's summer sea ice disappears.

"We end up getting very big changes in the Arctic that essentially translate to low-pressure systems—large storm systems—especially in Alaska," said lead author Matthew Higgins, a Ph.D. candidate in oceanic and atmospheric sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

"We see more storms—and more intense storms—because of changes in sea ice" in the Arctic, Higgins said.

With more open water, "the ocean is able to transfer more moisture into the atmosphere, because the ice isn't blocking it," Higgins said. The added moisture in the Arctic air should spur larger storms and more rain, sleet, and snow.

(Related: "Arctic Ice to Last Decades Longer Than Thought?")

"Could Be Seeing More Arctic Storms Soon"

Arctic sea ice cover has in recent years routinely hit new lows, and many scientists put the rate of summer ice retreat at about 10 percent a decade. (See "Arctic Ice at All-Time Low.")

The predicted increase in precipitation and storms could even speed up the ice decline as rain encourages ice to melt, Higgins noted.

The storm study was based on projected ice levels 70 to 90 years from now. But given the recent declines in sea ice and some of the more dire ice-loss predictions, the Arctic may get stormier sooner than later.

Though Higgins cautioned that his team hasn't addressed near-future Arctic storm conditions, he said it "would make sense that we could be seeing more storms" soon.

Findings published in the August 25 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.




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