Surprise: Climate Change is Likeliest Cause for Extreme Arctic Heat

This year’s remarkably warm Arctic winter would have been “extremely unlikely” without climate change, according to a new analysis from a consortium of scientists dedicated to understanding the impacts of global warming.

World Weather Attribution (WWA) released its report after the Arctic was hit with record-breaking temperatures amid the hottest year in recorded history.

The North Pole’s temperature anomalies “were not seen in our natural world ensemble,” the group wrote. “In contrast, events like 2016 or hotter occur in our current world model simulations but are rare, with a return interval of roughly 200 years. These results suggest that it is extremely unlikely this event would occur in the absence of human-induced climate change.”

As Andrew King, a researcher with the University of Melbourne who worked on the study, told the Washington Post on Wednesday, “We found that in our natural simulations, those without any human influences, we didn’t see Arctic winters as warm as this at all. In our simulations that kind of represent the world of today, including human forcings, it was a roughly one in a 200 year event.”


Scientists have long been sounding the alarm over the Arctic’s unusual temperatures and sea ice loss, which is part of a positive feedback loop contributing to climate change.

Mark Serreze, who heads the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told the Post‘s climate reporter Chris Mooney, “This is only the most recent remarkable event that we’ve seen in the Arctic over the past decade. Last winter saw another impressive heat wave, when in late December, temperatures at the North Pole almost reached the melting point. The seasonal maximum sea extent of last March was the lowest ever seen.”

“Many people thought that we’d never see as little sea ice in the Arctic as we did in September 2007, then along came 2012 which blew that record out of the water,” Serreze said. “There have been rain on snow events in winter, resulting in massive die-offs of reindeer. As some point, one has to admit that the string of remarkable events in the Arctic is more than just a string of unrelated coincidences.”

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