February 6th, 2012
03:02 PM ET

Shrinking polar ice caps may be to blame for frigid Europe

Europe's deadly cold snap may have a lot to do with shrinking amounts of ice in the Arctic, a recent study suggests.

Nearly 300 deaths have been reported across the continent, with snow accumulations not seen in five decades reported in some places. Warsaw, Poland, has seen 11 days of temperatures well below average, with a coldest reading of 35 below zero Fahrenheit.

As warmer air rises into the stratosphere over the Arctic, colder surface air moves south bringing storms to Europe.

Scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, say the frigid, snowy European winter has its origins in a warm Arctic summer.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July 2011 was the fourth-warmest July on record. A warm summer in the Arctic cuts the amount of sea ice. NOAA reports that sea-ice levels last July were the lowest in three decades.

The effect is twofold, the Wegener scientists report.

First, less ice means less solar heat is reflected back into the atmosphere. Rather, it is absorbed into the darker ocean waters. Second, once that heat is in the ocean, the reduced ice cap allows the heat to more easily escape into the air just above the ocean's surface.

Because warmer air tends to rise, the moisture-laden air near the ocean's surface rises, creating instability in the atmosphere and changing air-pressure patterns, the scientists say.

One pattern, called the Arctic Oscillation, normally pushes warm Atlantic air over Europe and keeps Arctic air over the poles.

But in mid-January this year, the Arctic Oscillation abruptly changed, allowing the jet stream to plunge into Siberia and push cold and snowy weather over much of Europe.

Similar situations have emerged the past two years.

Check out some more reports on what this winter's been like, both in the U.S. and around the world:

Frigid weather helps cost Romania's prime minister his job

What's behind America's warm winter?

soundoff (1,080 Responses)
  1. bob

    OMG how stupid are these people. Lets blame the cold on warming. HUH

    February 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Laurie

    oh of course...it's global warming!...why didn't I think of that?!!!

    February 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jacques

    The main 4 systems set to accurately measure the planet Earth's temperature, HadCRUT, GISTEMP, UAH, RSS MS, are correlating each other well enough. At the global scale, the warming looks to have stalled since the peak of temperature of 1998. The media are worried every time a local "anomaly" temperature happens, either too hot like during the summer 2003 in Europe or too cold like these last days. It is time to cease practising euro centrism or other country-ism.
    Europe is not bigger than 2 per cent of the globe's surface. If there is an abnormal temperature here, that means that it is balanced by an opposite abnormal temperature elsewhere.
    Europe is currently undergoing very low temperatures, OK, (though they are in no way abnormal). But who ever spoke of the warm temperatures we had in december and january? Once the average at the global scale is calculated, the year 2012 will not look that warmer (or colder) than 2011.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. spudsy1

    PLEASE. If we go into another ICE age than that will be because of Global Warming.

    Here is a hint. You have exhausted most of the money in global warming you should say that it is turning into Global Freezing. Than you guys can make even more money.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. me

    i find it ironic that one of the stories in the related links section is to an article blaming the non-normal winter on La Nina. or better put that the non normal winter was a normal La Nina event.

    if i understand, because there was less ice in summer the winds changed this week even thought the ice is fully in place this week and despite the fact that the ice cap even came back early way back in November. that makes a lot of sense blame an event today on conditions 6 months ago that have completely revereted to "normal" at the time of the event. that's like blaming a car accident in the summer for ice that was on the road during winter but has long since melted.

    these guys are grasping at straws and fighting for grant money. scary global warming is the easiest way to get publicity and money. meanwhile there is a lot of evidence that does not have to be manipulated showing with accuracy cause and effect related to solar activity. where is the money for that. i am sure if Al Gore tries hard enough he can come up with a solar credit scheme.

    get of oil for political and pollution-related reasons (BTW CO2 is not pollution nor is it an effective GH gas) not for imaginary boogie men.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. me

    i just read the comments on the Euro version of this article. most everybody there is mocking this article saying the weather is back to the way it used to be pre 90s warm period—ie. back to normal, not abnormal. short memories distort the meaning of the word "normal".

    February 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Irony Tag

    The world has not had statistically significant warming in 15 years. How is it now suddenly causing cooling in europe?

    Why does the article not mention that the Arctic Oscillation regularly switched betwen negative and positive phases?

    Why is gobal warming the cause when the global mean tempurature been dropping sharply the last couple of years? http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:2010/to:2012

    February 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • muhrvis

      Because the rise of global mean temperature is a trend that has taken place over many decades, not a couple of years. Apparently, you never mastered the concept of "averages" from grade school math. The five-year mean continues to trend upward. Look at any accepted graph, such as NASA's. Though I don't agree with the article that one year of weather in a single region can be said to have ANY relationship to climate change, the evidence for global warming is incontrovertible.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Jose

      Manipulated data collection and altered computer models have a difficult time hiding reality.

      Global Cooling is Killing Bats

      quoted from a searchable source on the net:
      Federal researchers say an infectious and lethal cold-loving fungus sweeping through parts of North America and Canada has killed millions more bats over the last five years than previously estimated.

      The rapidly spreading fungus responsible for white-nose syndrome is now believed to have killed 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats, a count several times higher than earlier estimates, across 16 states as far west as Oklahoma.

      February 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • sailrick

      Global mean temps have not been dropping the past few years. That is a lie.

      In the alternate reality of many GOP skeptics, the world is cooling.

      preliminary 2011 world, here's how global temperature average stands.

      The 2002-2011 period equals 2001-2010 as the warmest decade on record, 0.46°C above the long-term average

      Global temperatures in 2011 are currently the tenth highest on record and are higher than any previous year with a La Niña event, which has a relative cooling influence

      (La Nina events that originate in the central south pacific ocean, are cyclical, alternating with El Nino events. La Ninas cool the atmosphere, El Ninos warm it.)

      World Meteorological Organization
      (from Skeptical Science, John Hartz)

      Every year since 2001 was warmer than any year in the records, before 1998.

      The 13 warmest years have all occurred in the last 15 years

      The last decade had twice as many record highs as record lows (temps)

      The last decade was the warmest on record.

      February 20, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • sailrick

      2010 was the warmest year on record, or tied for warmest, depending on which temp data set you use.

      The Arctic Ocsillation you mention has had the most extreme posiitve and negative values ever recorded in the past few years.

      A prelude to the Arctic melting season

      Ice growth had been relatively slow in sea ice regions like the Barents Sea, Kara Sea and Greenland Sea (see this Cryosphere Today map to get an idea of where the regions are), but nothing (much) out of the ordinary. However, in the past two weeks a persistent weather pattern emerged that is bringing Siberian cold to almost all of Europe, but warm air and water to Novaya Zemlya, the large island that separates the Barentsz and Kara Seas.
      {Skeptical Sciene}

      "Arctic Sea Ice Update: Spectacular and Ominous"
      Has the melt season started in the Barents and Kara Seas two months earlier than normal?
      {Read at Climate Progress}

      "Graph of the Day: Arctic Oscillation and the Winter of Global Weirding"

      "There has been extreme variability of the Arctic Oscillation in recent years, including a record negative monthly value for December in 2009 (the month of the so-called 'Snowpocalypse' in the northeast U.S.), a record negative for any month in February 2010 ('Snowmageddon'), and a record positive one for April in 2011 (coinciding with the extraordinary number of tornadoes in the U.S. that month)," Ostro said. "And this has been occurring in the context of theprecipitous decline of Arctic sea ice volume."
      {At Climate Crocks}

      February 20, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Muddywolf

    Like Pavlov's dog, Glen Beck's minions regurgitate his inconvenient idiocy at the mere mention of climate change. Do people realize that Beck has no academic or professional credentials in any discipline whatsoever? He's not even a real journalist! But hey, if you want to surrender your mind to a charlatan who once appeared on TV dressed like Moses and allow his nonsensical demagoguery to atrophy your brain, it's your right. As for the topic at hand, we have irrefutable evidence that the earth's ancient ice sheets are melting at an accelerated rate. It doesn't ultimately matter if it's partially or predominately due to climate cycles, because like naturally recurring global mass-extinctions, the consequences will be severe.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • memberoflife

      well said on both points! Becker head will still be ranting as the water rises above his empty head!

      February 8, 2012 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
    • me

      Like Pavlov's dog, Al Gore's minions regurgitate his inconvenient idiocy at the mere mention of any weather instance they believe is not normal.

      these ancient ice sheets you speak of are not as ancient as you think. they are the remnants of the last ice age. the northern cap was absent in the 13th centure mideval warm period and about 4,000 years ago and at both times, the polar bears did not die, live actually flourished and desserts receded. through much of the earths history there was much less ice. the earth is colder now than it has been for most of its existence. the so-called and fabricated hockey stick is not even charted when you look at global temperature in eons. and CO2 has no measurable impact on the global temperature historically (speaking eons again) and is at a global historical low. where to you think all that carbon came from? much of it was once once atmospheric before becoming trapped in rock and fossil fuel. with as much as we have released it is unremarkable compared to what was once present. a major volcanic incidence can and has released more CO2 back into the atmosphere than man. noticed i said released not introduced.

      there is so much psuedo science and falsifying of data out there for political and economic reasons it is sickening. climate change is the next big industry. be sure to get in on the ground floor.

      wake up sheep!

      February 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jose

      The so-called water level rising is actually caused by the cities pumping the ground water from underneath the cities and causing the cities to sink.

      Cities like Houston have already figured it out and have stopped pumping pumping the water that is holding the city up. The new science uses GPS to calculate the rate of sinking.

      February 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Helpme

      Not that it means anything to me- are you more worried about Glenn Beck or Global warming? Why are you afraid, of scrutiny? Did Glenn Beck every say he was a scientist, or try to make scientific assertions – hmmm I think that's the job of a guy named Al Gore, when he's not busy inventing the internet. Why do we focus on the facts= and what the facts are they are? i will tell you why- these con-artists have made such a production out this stuff- if it is not true they're screwed- that'w why thwy're so wildly defensive.

      February 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bubba Nicholson

    Global warming can be turned into global cooling with the launch of inflatable balloons into equatorial orbit. 20 shuttle launches, max. The CO2 is less than 1% of our atmosphere, and the crops could use more. Yes, we have asked the rice plants what they prefer and more CO2 was answered by the experiment.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill744

      That tiny fraction of CO2 in the atmosphere keeps the global average temperature some 60 degrees warmer than if there were no greenhouse gases. Double it and what do you get? You don't need advanced math to understand that the answer is Trouble, with a capital T. Another bit of research shows that as CO2 levels rise, the trees in the Amazon basin don't need to open their stoma as much, thereby reducing the humidity they release and which is necessary for the tropical rainstorms that are needed to maintain the rain forest. The Amazon can become a desert.

      February 9, 2012 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
    • me

      @Bill744

      actually you do need advanced math. greenhouse gasses are not 1+1=2. it is an equation so complex only a fool would claim to be able to calculate it. there are actions and reactions with other gasses, the ocean, etc., etc.. as you add CO2, the effect drops off exponentially.

      here is some really simple math/science that you can understand.

      CO2 is about the least effective of the greenhouse gasses
      CO2 is at a historic low (not talking the past 200 years, but in millions) by factors of 10s
      CO2 does not relate to global temps when you look at eons
      CO2 is not a pollutant, it is the basis of life on Earth
      Biomass was much greater when there was more atmospheric CO2
      Volcanos in your lifetime have put more CO2 back into the atmosphere than man has in his entire existence
      Katrina released more CO2 from rotting vegetation than man has in decades

      I can go on. CO2 is a red herring or at best.

      February 9, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JQ

    I IMPLORE YOU, be an educated citizen AND get your facts from the SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS...NOT FROM FOX NEWS! Politicians and Americans getting their facts from politicians have ABSOLUTELY no right to decide our policy on global warming in the this country. For once, PEOPLE, listen to what 99% of scientists acknowledge already...that temperatures are rising and that ice caps are melting! Putting the health of the planet in the hands of politicians is NO different than putting entrusting your health and survival to a soap opera doctor.

    February 8, 2012 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Shawn

      100% agreed

      February 8, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • STEVE

      There are no "scientific" journals. Peer review has failed and science is as rife with politics and bias as any other human pursuit. It's all those nasty humans you know.

      February 8, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wicket

      Where is the evidence that "peer review" has failed? Do you think that something like climate change, that even the Koch brothers couldn't disprove with their own scientists, wouldn't be peer-reviewed to death?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill744

      I heard David Koch at an AFP gathering (recorded) bragging that his efforts have convinced lawmakers that science has been politicized. I did some digging. Multi-billion dollar Koch Industries is one of the largest private coal concerns with a lot of oil interests as well. They have a huge economic interest in suppressing science, just as Philip Morris did. Now, a lot of those in the denial camp allege that all the solutions are socialist or communist, right? Well, where does that come from? If you look up the history of the John Birch Society, you see that Fred Koch, the Koch Industries founder and the Koch brothers' father, was a founding member. The JBS, even called far right by William F. Buckley, is known for laying blame for every societal ill on secret communist conspiracies. Big tin foil hats. Now, that is the source of a lot of the twisting that is going on. Not climate scientists being paid salaries of $65,000 a year.

      February 9, 2012 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
    • John smith

      I IMPLORE YOU.....THE SKY IS FALLING! You must belive me...THE SKY IS FALLING!

      February 9, 2012 at 2:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Helpme

      Another tirate against Fox News and Glen Beck- what do we live in police state where nobody can disagree? You would think Glen Beck, is standing in the way of global warming- frustratiing they're gig. If the science is so solid, why not just focus on the factual information? – the truth always comes out in the wash.From my perspective, the only people talking factual science are the ones, debunking this stuff. the global warming bunch would do themselves a favor of sticking to real facts, not pseudo assertions (Al Gore declaring 20 feet sees rising – from what?). If the Global warming is happening, then I want to know it- if not I want to know that as well. But if it is not, those poor prople who based they're lives, and took millions even billions – on the foundation that it is true- what are they gonna do? :-)

      February 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. SouthTexas101

    The earth is 70% water that no one is control of. The cooler than normal Pacific water (La Nina) caused the greatest Texas drought since early 1950s. We had record cold and record snow in lots of USA last winter, this winter the opposite. A rare ice storm in Corpus Christi, TX on the gulf coast, in early February 2011. Most snow ever recorded on Christmas 2004 in South Texas! The Earth and Sun are controlling the weather themselves, not little humans.

    February 8, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Cool

      the whole basis of global warming is that it is global. isolated anecdotes from texas dont mean anything

      February 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Saying

      @SouthTexas101

      What you don't seem to understand is that there is a difference between weather and climate. Climate is what happens over large areas (e.g., the entire globe) while weather is what happens in a small area (e.g., your little patch of hell...er, i mean Texas). Global Warming has been predicted to cause significant changes in weather patterns, including shifting of upper and lower level winds which drive distributoin of both rain and heat energy. A warming planet can easily cause a more limited area to get colder and/or a wet to dry out or vice versa.

      Global Climate Change and Global Weather Wierding go hand in hand. What you have experienced in Texas is part of the Global Weather Wierding, driven by Global Climate Change. Get used to it.

      That is what the Koch brothers, Glenn Beck and all the other anti-knowledge, anti-science crowd don't want you to understand.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jdun

    Is the Arctic Oscillation and the breakout of cold air and snow always in Europe or will it hit the US from time to time? Does the Labrador current have anything to do with the recent weather in Europe? Global warming is real, but do we really understand the variety of effects it will have on us? Science is fascinating, theories are based on scientific evidence, but outcomes don't always occur as predicted. The naysayers see a wrong prediction and assume the theory is wrong- not always so. We need more science and math education so our future citizens will better understand these events, theuir causes and our responses.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. blueoceans2

    If the ice caps don't grow back quickly does it mean that this weather pattern will continue next winter and for years?
    I feel sorry for the folks in northern Europe etc.... but I really like this weather. This is the warmest winter we have had in 50 or so years.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • John smith

      Winter of 1976-77 many predictions of the next ice age as the winter was very cold. Winter of 1982-83...very warm with no snow during winter in the Midwest. Finally snow on the first day of Spring. It is variability. DUH!

      February 9, 2012 at 2:51 am | Report abuse |
  14. mrpipzoid

    My faith rests on epistemology. Peer-reviewed journals are in a wholly different class of truth-saying & finding than non-peer-reviewed, "popular", magazines. The likelihood that WSJ, Glenn Beck, G. Wills, C Krauthammer are right and the peer-reviewed journals are wrong is pretty close to absolute zero: they're that cold.

    February 11, 2012 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  15. Jose

    Someone should study the spinning of the molten iron core at the center of the earth and correlate the axis of rotation with the melting of the permafrost and shifting of hot and cold spots.

    Funding is probably not available because it does not advance a political agenda.

    February 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
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