Arctic Ice Melt Linked to Chilly Spring
Corcusses bloom in the sun in Duesseldorf, Germany, March 4, 2013.
Farmers of the Tibetan ethnic group attend a ceremony to celebrate the starting of spring plowing work at Deqing Village of Dazi County, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, March 16, 2013.
Farmers of the Tibetan ethnic group attend a ceremony to celebrate the starting of spring plowing at Weiba Village of Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, on March 16, 2013.
This photo, taken on March 20, shows the snow-covered cherry blossoms at the Yuyuantan Park in Beijing, capital of China.
Asparagus harvest starts in Lower Saxony. Here, harvesters cut the first asparagus in Steimbke, Germany, March 15, 2013.
Snowflakes blossom in a park in Hamburg, Germany, March 3, 2013.
A white stork (Ciconia ciconia) takes off from a field with broad strokes of its wings in Bad Freienwalde, Germany, March 4, 2013. For many years, this stork has been one of the first of its species to arrive back very early from its wintering area. In Brandenburg, there are approximately 1,200 pairs of storks.
Outfielder for the New York Yankees Brennan Boesch is at bat during a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on St. Patrick's Day at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
New York Yankees center fielder Melky Mesa beats a throw to the Pittsburgh Pirates' first baseman Garrett Jones during a spring training game on St. Patrick's Day.Florida.
Barnacle Geese fly over a field near St. Peter Ording, Germany, on March 17. In spring and autumn every year, thousands of these Artic birds stop over in the Wadden Sea during migration.
This photo, taken on March 18, shows bleeding heart flowers in Luoyang, in central China's Henan Province. Various flowers are in full blossom as spring comes.
A bee lands on a begonia flower in Suzhou, east China's Jiangsu Province.
Iranian buy goldfish for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, in Babol City, northern Iran, on March 19. Nowruz, which usually occurs on March 20 or 21, marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the new year on the Iranian calendar.
An Iranian man holds a fire cracker during the celebration of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, in Babol City, northern Iran, on March 19.
Thick snow covers flower buds in Beijing, capital of China, March 20, 2013. The heavy snowfall happened to hit the city on the Chinese traditional calendar date of Chunfen, which heralds the beginning of the spring season. Chunfen, which literally means Spring Equinox or Vernal Equinox, falls on the day when the sun is exactly at the celestial latitude of zero degrees.
Pussy willow branches in Bavaria grow next to the shimmering Hopfensee Lake in the sunshine near Hopfen am See, Germany.
A black swan breeds in the snow-covered bird park in Marlow, Germany, on March 20, which marks the calendrical beginning of spring this year.
A little girl dressed in folk costume holds a plate with blinis (pancakes) during Maslenitsa, the Russian Sun Festival (also known as Pancake Week), which celebrates the end of winter and marks the arrival of spring, in Ryazan.
The Arctic sea ice has reached its winter maximum for the year -- the sixth lowest maximum on record -- at the same time that weird, chilly spring weather in the northern hemisphere has many people wondering if there is a connection to the Arctic changes.
The answer is yes and no, according to scientists monitoring the ice as well as those trying to figure out how it affects the rest of the planet.
The sea ice maximum was reached on March 15, and despite being the high point of sea ice for the year, its lower than average extent and some remarkable mid-winter cracking of the sea ice has researchers concerned.
"There is cracking every year when the ice is pushed by the winds and currents," said Walter Meier, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. "But this was particularly extreme. Qualitatively, this seems like the biggest."
Instead of a few narrow cracks, powerful winter storms led to a number of large cracks, hundreds of meters wide, that stretched all across the Arctic.
The cracks quickly froze shut, but that refrozen ice would have to be thinner than the ice that cracked, which itself was just first-year ice that started building up in September or October. The resulting patched together ice sheet would naturally be more vulnerable to melting in the summer.
As for why the extreme cracking occurred at all, that traces back to the summer melting, which has claimed more and more of the thick, crack resistant, multi-year ice, Meier explained.
All these ice troubles do, indeed, have weather effects well beyond the range of polar bears.
Research is underway to nail down the details, but it appears that by warming the Arctic and lessening the pressure and temperature differences between the Arctic and the temperate latitudes, two big changes can happen to make weather much worse in North America and Eurasia.
The first change is the slowing of westerly winds, which keep weather systems moving from west to east, explained climate researcher Steve Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin, who is modeling the effects of less sea ice on weather. That means if a snow storm or heat wave strikes, it will stick around longer, worsening its effects.
The second change is that the jet stream takes on more of a meandering loop. That means Arctic air can dip south with those loops -- chilling temperatures. The dipping cold air also then has more chances to come in contact with much warmer, wetter air to the south. The result can be violent storms and lots of tornadoes.
"You can't say it about one storm or one season," Vavrus said who is working closely with researcher Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University. "But what we are seeing this year is the kind of change that we expect."