Melting Arctic ice to predict extreme summer weather | Polarjournal
As the Arctic ice melts, freshwater flows into the North Atlantic, disrupting atmospheric currents. The greater the freshwater discharges, the more extreme weather phenomena, such as heat and drought, will occur. If the phenomenon is to become more frequent, forecasting its amplitude and location could prove essential for implementing planning policies. Photo: Michael Wenger

Predicting extreme summer weather events in Europe with Arctic ice melt? According to a study conducted by Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre and published on February 28 in Weather and Climate Dynamics, this could be the case. Researchers have discovered a chain of events leading to hotter, drier summers in Europe. The findings of this study could help improve climate models and predict European summer weather months or even years in advance. A real advantage when it comes to planning heat waves, fires or floods.

As a result of global warming, ice is melting in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, bringing freshwater into the North Atlantic. While it was known that this loss of Arctic ice was linked to more frequent and extreme southern weather conditions, the link between the two remained elusive.

This new study therefore investigates this link and the mechanism by which meltwater flowing into the North Atlantic triggers chains of atmospheric events, leading to summer heat and drought in Europe. “The location and strength of meltwater occurrences in the North Atlantic in winter provide valuable clues about the location, strength and character of European weather anomalies in the subsequent summers.”, says Marilena Oltmanns, oceanographer and researcher at the National Oceanography Centre and lead author of the study, in a press release issued by the Centre on February 28.

The results obtained by the research team could indeed help improve current models and more accurately predict extreme weather phenomena well in advance. This will enable certain particularly sensitive sectors (agriculture and certain industries), or governments and communities, to prepare for these phenomena.

We all remember the extreme weather phenomena of recent years. Scorching summers, devastating forest fires, floods (as seen here in Alaska in 2022), drought. Even if these phenomena are on the increase, it is not easy to predict their extent or location. Photo : NWS

Basically, the greater the melting of Arctic and sub-Arctic ice, the greater the release of freshwater into the North Atlantic. The cold, fresh water thus released into warmer seawater disrupts ocean currents and causes atmospheric changes.

The greater the influx of meltwater, the drier and hotter the following summer will be in southern areas. To what extent? This is the question that the present study believes it can answer: “The identified statistical links are significant on timescales from years to decades and indicate an enhanced predictability of European summer weather at least a winter in advance, […]”, say the authors.

Link to study: Oltmanns, M., Holliday, N. P., Screen, J., Moat, B. I., Josey, S. A., Evans, D. G., and Bacon, S.: European summer weather linked to North Atlantic freshwater anomalies in preceding years, Weather Clim. Dynam. 5, 109-132, https://doi.org/10.5194/wcd-5-109-2024, 2024, https://wcd.copernicus.org/articles/5/109/2024/

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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