The shrinking of sea-ice in the eastern Arctic causes some regional heating of the lower levels of air -- which may lead to strong anomalies in atmospheric airstreams, triggering an overall cooling of the northern continents, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
"These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and northern Asia," says Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study and climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "Recent severe winters like last year's or the one of 2005-06 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it."
The researchers base their assumptions on simulations with an elaborate computer model of general circulation, ECHAM5, focusing on the Barents-Kara Sea north of Norway and Russia where a drastic reduction of ice was observed in the cold European winter of 2005-06. Those surfaces of the sea lacking the ice cover lose a lot of warmth to the normally cold and windy arctic atmosphere. What the researchers did was to feed the computer with data, gradually reducing the sea ice cover in the eastern Arctic from 100 percent to 1 percent in order to analyse the relative sensitivity of wintertime atmospheric circulation.
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