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Could Cimate Change Be Bringing Colder Winters To Europe?

Roman Forum in snow

Significant loss of Arctic sea ice in the Barents Sea and Kara Sea north of Russia, has been linked by scientists to the abnormally cold weather currently being experienced across Europe.

The freezing weather throughout Europe has caused widespread disruption to transport services, left thousands without power, and claimed hundreds of lives so far. The bitterly cold temperatures are expected to continue into the week ahead, and to spread to more areas. A state of emergency was declared in Bosnia after strong winds and avalanches cut off hundreds of villages.

Could climate change be partly to blame for the current freezing conditions in Europe? It has been reported, by The Independent, that Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has said, “The current weather pattern fits earlier predictions of computer models for how the atmosphere responds to the loss of sea ice due to global warming.”

Rahmstorf explains that as the ice-free areas of the ocean are warmer, they act like a heater, as the water is warmer than the Arctic air above it. Crucially, “This favours the formation of a high-pressure system near the Barents Sea, which steers cold air into Europe.”

According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre, the sea ice covering the Barents and Kara Seas has indeed been exceptionally low during this Arctic winter, and air temperatures above the seas have been  higher than average.

Britain had been shielded from colder temperatures this winter by light westerly winds, but high pressure over north-west Russia has blocked the winds.

Studies at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research have previously found a link between Arctic sea ice loss and the creation of high-pressure zones, which impact wind patterns further south. According to Professor Rahmstorf, the previous Wegener Institute research confirms earlier computer model predictions from the Potsdam Institute that forecast colder winters in western Europe, resulting from melting Arctic sea ice.

Image CC licensed by Stefano Costantini: Roman Forum in Rome blanketed in snow, February 4, 2012

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