Published: 25 September 2017
According to scientists, climate change has caused serious damage in the Arctic.
In fact, a study shows that the polar vortex is shifting and that it will make winters on the east coast of the US and parts of Europe last even longer, with exceptionally cold temperatures expected to fluctuate throughout the year.
The polar vortex is an area of cool air that swirls around the Arctic during the winter.
When parts of the vortex are separated they can cause unusually cold conditions in late winter and early spring in the northern hemisphere.
This shift occurred for the last time in 2014, triggering an extreme event in the northern United States and Canada.
Few people know that there are actually two polar vortices: the stratospheric polar vortex, which lies about 19,800 meters (65,000 feet) above the surface of the Earth; and the tropospheric polar vortex that lies approximately between 5,500 to 9,100 meters (18,000 to 30,000 feet) above the surface.
Usually, when meteorologists are talking about the polar vortex, they are referring to the tropospheric vortex, which is tearing and submerging cold air toward mid-latitude cities, such as New York.
But this study focused on the stratospheric polar vortex, which may have a greater but more subtle effect on weather in the mid-latitudes.
After looking at satellite data over the last three decades, the team of researchers was able to show that the stratospheric polar vortex has gradually been moving towards the Eurasian continent, and has become increasingly weak in the last 30 years.
This may sound good to lovers of warm weather, but a weaker polar vortex means a vortex that is more likely to break, and those ruptures would catapult unusually late winter “bursts” laden with cold air to the rest of the world.
When the polar vortex is strong, on the contrary, it manages to contain very well the cold air in the Arctic Circle.
The weakening of the polar vortex is not necessarily new – it is something that several studies have shown in recent years.
But this study also shows that the vortex is moving away from North America and towards Europe and Asia during February each year – and that this shift could cause the east coast of the US and other parts of the world to be even colder.
Unsurprisingly, the study also found that this change in the vortex is “closely related” to a decrease in Arctic sea ice cover – especially in the Barents-Kara seas – and an increase in snow cover on the Eurasian continent.
But that bond is still a little tenuous.
The main problem here is that researchers have found a correlation, but no one has been able to show exactly how the melting of ice in the Arctic sea is causing the polar vortex to shift.
“I think the document has provided sufficient evidence to support its conclusions, but obviously a document will not solve a problem,” said James Screen, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter in the UK, who did not participate in the research.
The team admits they do not have all the answers at the moment, but the relationship between the polar vortex and the loss of Arctic ice makes it worth investigating further.
In the study, experts have concluded that “the potential change of the vortex will cause the loss of persistent sea ice in the future, and its associated climate impact deserves attention to better restrict climate change in the future.”
In the near future researchers will have many opportunities to explore this phenomenon, with the temperature at the North Pole being 36 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) warmer than they should be.
The research has been published in Nature Climate Change.