I understand if folks are getting tired of hearing about global warming or historic, record-breaking, weather events that crop up every few days. But you’d think a thousand-mile wide tropical hurricane invading and bringing rain to normally-frozen Arctic regions like the North Pole would be newsworthy, if only for what it portends for our future. Yet, a search of the subject produces almost nil in the way of useful information, as if the mainstream media is clueless or not allowed to talk about this with the general public for fear of causing a mass panic.
When I resorted to a local news source, I found they’d tried to turn it into a joke. Here’s what KOMO TV had to say about the situation:
“A storm that brought severe weather to the southeast over Christmas has moved out into the Atlantic, re-strengthened into another monster storm bearing down on Iceland…
“And has somehow managed to make it to where Santa’s elves at the North Pole are enjoying a warmer Wednesday morning than Seattleites rushing out the door to work…computer projections show temperatures were to be in the mid 30s around the pole, a bit warmer than the 30 degrees Seattle had Wednesday morning. (Tacoma could brag it was probably 10 degrees colder than the North Pole Wednesday as they were around 25 at daybreak.)”
Rather than suggesting what this kind of warm weather will mean to the life adapted to arctic conditions, the silly Seattle station summed up the report glibly with:
“So how is it that for the first time in forever, polar bears might just be able to indulge on a Frappuccino?”
To get a glimpse into just how these warm weather events can affect high Arctic wildlife, one might do better to check with people who make the habitat their home.
In an article in Science Mag, entitled, Arctic Faces an Ice-pocalypse, reports:
“Ecologist Brage [Hansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim] and his co-authors focused on the rainy warm spell that brought record-high temperatures and prolonged rain to Svalbard over 2 weeks in January and February 2012. Temperatures during that period were routinely 20°C higher than normal, and on one day, the study notes, a Svalbard weather station recorded a daily average temperature of 4°C, which was “higher than at any weather station in mainland Norway on that day.” Another Svalbard station recorded 272 mm of rain during the 2 weeks; that station’s average for the whole year is 385 mm.
“The water created thick pools of slush and melted snow, kept cold by the frozen ground, known as permafrost. Then temperatures dropped and everything froze, leaving Svalbard’s fjords and towns coated in thick ice, terrorizing its roughly 2000 inhabitants and decimating the most abundant animals on the archipelago—wild reindeer. Scientists measured ground ice between 10 and 20 cm thick in 200 test sites, and more than half of the ground area they monitored was still covered in the ice 5 months later.
“The impact on Svalbard’s reindeer was severe, as ice prevented the animals from digging through the snow to eat plants.”
Meanwhile: “Winter rain in the Arctic may alter marine ecosystems as well as terrestrial ones, says Cecilia Bitz, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, Seattle. The sea ice is where ringed seals live. Rain on snow “can collapse their snow caves where they raise their young,” she says. Along with the declining amount of floating ice, she adds, rain on snow is a reason the animals have been listed as threatened.”
I don’t expect to hear of any polar bears ordering Frappuccino since the last polar warm spell, but let’s hope the caribou and seal pups make it through unscathed. At the same time, the U.S.’s southern border is seeing an unprecedented snowpack that may spell trouble for wintering waterfowl in areas such as the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Although the birds pictured here are called “snow geese”, it’s not because snow is their preferred habitat.