Arctic Sea Ice Loss May Have Lasting Impacts on Weather Systems and Extremes

Nature Communications, 19 April 2022

The current rapid loss of Arctic sea ice may intensify temperature and precipitation trends by 50% in Europe, North America, West Africa and South America for several decades. Rising global temperatures accelerate the flow of heat from the North Atlantic Ocean into the Barents-Kara Seas and nearby Arctic regions. The warming of near-surface Arctic waters accelerates the melt of sea ice and increases the amount of fresh water flowing into the North Atlantic. This “freshening” of the North Atlantic, in combination with warmer ocean temperature significantly alters atmospheric circulation patterns over mid-latitude regions; with ocean waters holding heat longer than the atmosphere, these patterns may become self-sustaining for decades. Life-threatening droughts, heatwaves, floods and other climate extremes would become more common as these altered wind patterns exacerbate temperature extremes and rainfall. These findings reiterate the importance of reducing emissions to slow and if possible, reverse the loss of Arctic sea ice in order to to minimize destructive weather events over coming decades.