Arctic sea-ice loss is, surprisingly, not leading to colder winters in Europe, as scientists had expected.

Arctic sea-ice loss isn’t going to affect European winters in an expected way. Photo: Shutterstock

Artic sea-ice loss is a significant side effect of global climate change, and one that is expected to have a number of consequences for the world at large. But one expected consequence, namely colder winters in northern Europe, doesn’t seem like it’s actually going to happen.

According to a study from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, using computer experiments conducted with aid from the UK Met Office, Dr. James Screen has determined that the effects of Arctic ice-loss are a little more complicated than we thought.

The loss of Arctic sea-ice is, as expected, leading to an intensification of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which affects winter weather conditions in Northern Europe, in places such as the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

Sea-ice loss is resulting in the NAO spending more time in its “negative phase,” which researchers had expected would result in colder winter weather. However, it looks like while it is spending more time in the negative phase, the easterly winds generated by the NAO are actually warmer than they used to be. The result is that, while there are more winds for longer, they’re warmer.

While this shows us that sea-ice loss does have an impact on European wind patterns, it’s not exactly the one we were expecting. This is by no means to say that the ice-loss isn’t a problem, just that it doesn’t have all of the effects we were expecting. Figuring out how the loss of Arctic sea-ice is affecting the world, and will continue to do so, will require more research. This finding goes to show just how important that research is.

“Scientists are eager to understand the far-flung effects of Arctic sea-ice loss,” said Dr. Screen. “On the one hand, this study shows that sea-ice loss does influence European wind patterns. But on the other hand, Arctic sea-ice loss does not appear to be a cause of European temperature change, as some scientists have argued.”