Across large portions of North America and Europe, the beginning of spring has been anything but warm so far. Scientists have now attributed that to the intense loss of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change. Last autumn, that ice fell to a record-breaking low, and experts say it's only going to get worse.
Jennifer Francis, research professor with the Rutgers Institute of Coastal and Marine Science, noted, "The sea ice is going rapidly. It's 80 percent less than it was just 30 years ago. There has been a dramatic loss. This is a symptom of global warming, and it contributes to enhanced warming of the Arctic. This is what is affecting the jet stream and leading to the extreme weather we are seeing in mid-latitudes. It allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. The pattern can be slow to change because the [southern] wave of the jet stream is getting bigger."
Vladimir Petoukhov, professor of earth system analysis at Germany's Potsdam Institute, conducted research on the matter that led to the same conclusion. "The ice was at a record low last year," he agreed, "and is now exceptionally low in some parts of the Arctic like the Labrador and Greenland seas."
And as scientists have warned time and again, climate change is also triggering increasingly aggressive and unstable weather.
"With more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe," said the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a statement.
Meanwhile, cattle and livestock in the UK have paid the price for the lingering cold with their lives. Emergency crews were helping with rescues this week in Scotland and Wales in order to save flocks of sheep on snow-covered farms. Animals on very rural farms in Northern Ireland have been dying from the cold. In response, helicopters were deployed today to drop food off for some of these animals.
Ireland agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill said, "It is a severe situation. People are angry and concerned. We have an animal welfare issue. Some of the scenes are harrowing - to see farmers bring in sheep that have died from the snow."
A spokesman for the National Farmers Union of England and Wales added, "Severe weather warnings are still in place, and the majority of farmers are out there battling freezing temperatures to protect their livelihoods, families, and incomes."
The Government of the United Kingdom's chief scientific adviser, John Beddingon, remarked, "The current variation we are seeing in temperature and rainfall is double the rate of the average. That suggests that we are having more droughts, we are going to have more floods, we are going to have more sea surges, and we are going to have more storms. These are the sort of changes that are going to affect us in quite a short timescale."
Photo: Scientific data shows how the new record-low sea ice compares with the average minimum extent over the past 30 years (depicted in yellow). NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Flickr (CC)