For the third time this winter, temperatures in the Arctic are forecast to rise to near freezing, this time due to a massive storm that is brewing in the North Atlantic. The continued dumping of warm, moist air into the Arctic, along with the overall rise of global temperatures and a warm Arctic winter, is hampering the region’s ability to generate new sea ice cover, already at a record low since the season started last September.
While this storm has a low air pressure (932 millibars) that is usually associated with category 4 hurricanes, it remains unnamed: since it didn’t originate in the tropics as most hurricanes do, the National Hurricane Center didn’t apply a name to it. Ships in the North Atlantic are already being warned of the extreme hazard the storm presents, with 150 km/h (92 mph) winds generating 15-meter (50-foot) waves.
Sea ice extent in the Arctic is currently at an all-time low, and at 90,000 square kilometers below 2011’s previous record for the month of January, this offsets the modest gains the ice sheet saw in December 2016. Typically, ice that covers the surface will reflect solar radiation back into space, but as more open water appears, the less-reflective water instead absorbs sunlight, heating the ocean even further. This creates a feedback loop, as the warmer conditions further impede ice growth, of which in turn causes more heating.
Climate models presently in use do not account for the unprecedented warming that is being observed in the arctic region, and the stability of the critical Greenland glaciers is presently an unknown. When sea ice melts, it doesn’t cause sea levels to rise, but should glacial ice slide into the ocean, levels will begin to increase immediately.