Effects of Arctic Weather and Climate

Weather and climate patterns in the Arctic can influence weather and climate around the world, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.

Climate Effects

The Arctic region acts as a heat sink for the Earth: the Arctic loses more heat to space than it absorbs from the sun's rays. In contrast, lower latitudes get more heat from the sun than they lose to space. Warm air and water move into the Arctic from tropical and temperate regions, and cold air and water moves from the Arctic into lower latitudes; the constant movement of air is reflected in day to day changes in weather patterns. Over a whole year, and looking at the globe as a whole, the heat gain in lower latitudes gets balanced out, on average, by heat loss in the polar regions.

Weather Effects

When a winter snowstorm or cold snap hits temperate regions, people sometimes refer to the frigid temperatures as "Arctic." Cold air does in fact move from the Arctic into other regions, just as warm air from the south moves into polar regions. Storms tend to form at the boundaries between cold and warm air. Cold air moving down from the north is experienced as a cold front. Arctic blizzards can cause whiteouts, making life for people and animals difficult.

Some recent studies have argued that long-term changes in Arctic sea ice and climate may have impacts on weather patterns in other parts of the world, but so far the research remains largely inconclusive.

Arctic storm, August 27, 2012
Photo of a storm over the arctic taken with the MODIS instrument. Notice the large swirl (known as a cyclone) located over the arctic ocean. Greenland is located in the bottom left of the image.
Credit: NASA.
Arctic energy schematic from Goosse et al. 2018
This schematic shows energy feedbacks in the polar regions. TOA = top of atmosphere.. Solar radiation is yellow infrared radiation is red. A red plus sign means positive feedback; a blue – sign means negative feedback. The gray line at right is a simplified temperature profile.
—Credit: Goosse et al. 2018.

Last updated: 4 May 2020