Temperatures at the North Pole are believed to have hit 2.0°C last weekend—more than 30° higher than normal for this time of year—according to several independent reviews of data from the U.S. Global Forecast System model. The result stunned scientists, at a time of year when the pole is in the dark around the clock.
The sun won’t rise at the Earth’s northern tip until March 20. “But an extraordinary and possibly historic thaw swelled over the tip of the planet this weekend,” the Washington Post reports. There is no direct temperature measurement at the pole, but “analyses show that the temperature warmed to the melting point as an enormous storm pumped an intense pulse of heat through the Greenland Sea.”
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The Post says scientists have also been “shocked” to see open water north of Greenland, “an area normally covered by old, very thick ice.” Tweeted University of Colorado ice sheet specialist Mike McFerrin: “This has me more worried than the warm temps in the Arctic right now.”
The temperature intrusion resulted in the warmest February ever recorded, 20°C above normal, across the entire region above 80° north latitude, based on Danish Meteorological Institute data going back to 1958.
“No other warm intrusions were very close to this,” University of California Irvine climate scientist Zack Labe told the Post. “I was taken by surprise how expansive this warm intrusion was.”
But a study last July found that polar temperature spikes have become more frequent, intense, and long-lasting since 1980.
“Previously this was not common,” said lead author Robert Graham of the Norwegian Polar Institute. “It happened in four years between 1980-2010, but has now occurred in four out of the last five winters.”
In an email to the Post, Graham attributed the change to declining Arctic sea ice extent. “As the sea ice is melting and thinning, it is becoming more vulnerable to these winter storms,” he wrote. “The thinner ice drifts more quickly and can break up into smaller pieces. The strong winds from the south can push the ice further north into the Central Arctic, exposing the open water and releasing heat to the atmosphere from the ocean.”
Meanwhile, people in Rome were throwing snowballs, as “the Arctic storm dubbed the ‘Beast from the East’ saw temperatures across much of Europe fall Monday to their lowest level this winter,” Reuters reports . “Rome’s schools were ordered closed, while train, plane, and bus services were crippled. Italy’s civil protection agency even mobilized the army to help clear slush-covered streets as a city used to mild winters was covered by a thick blanket of snow.”