Arctic sea ice and U.S. weather

People sometimes wonder if the weather they are experiencing locally, such as the heavy snow that fell in February 2011 over the Northeastern U.S., is connected to decreasing Arctic sea ice. Scientists are exploring a possible connection. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

Over the 2010 to 2011 winter, news stories suggested a potential connection between a warming climate, low Arctic sea ice extent, and unusually cold weather this winter in the U.S. and Europe. What do scientists know about how sea ice affects the weather?

Scientists have been exploring a possible link, but the question is far from settled. It makes sense that changing sea ice conditions could affect weather in the Arctic and other parts of the world. During the colder months, sea ice insulates the relatively warm ocean from the colder atmosphere. As sea ice declines, more heat can escape to the atmosphere in the fall and winter, affecting wind patterns, temperature, and precipitation. Continue reading

What about sea ice in winter?

Researchers take measurements of the physical properties of sea ice in Fram Strait, in the Canadian Arctic. Thinner sea ice melts away faster in the summer compared to older, thicker ice. Credit: Angelika Renner

Arctic sea ice has most likely frozen to its maximum extent for the winter. This event marks the turning point between winter and spring for sea ice, and may affect the amount of ice that will remain by end of summer. In early April, NSIDC scientists will talk about what this year’s maximum signifies for the upcoming summer. Meanwhile, readers are asking how the ice cover this year is different from the ice cover in years past.

Arctic sea ice grows each winter, hitting its annual maximum sometime in March. When the sun returns to the Arctic in the spring, the air warms up and the ice starts to melt. The ice retreats through the warmer summer months, hitting its lowest point sometime in September. Although scientists watch the sea ice year-round, they pay attention to the highest and lowest extents of the year as indicators of the overall health of the sea ice. Continue reading