Agriculturalists across Europe are tense with worry for their crops. After a temptingly warm weather week at the end of March, the following days of frost have left crops confused and crispy with frost. New research from a similar weather pattern in 2018 named the “Beast from the East” suggests that the loss of the Arctic sea-ice due to climate warming is connected with the severe cold and snowy mid-latitude winters. The study’s findings are published in Nature Geoscience.
"Climate change doesn't always manifest in the most obvious ways. It's easy to extrapolate models to show that winters are getting warmer and to forecast a virtually snow-free future in Europe, but our most recent study shows that is too simplistic. We should beware of making broad sweeping statements about the impacts of climate change," comments study co-author Alun Hubbard from the Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, who is a professor of Environment and Climate at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.
Lead author Dr. Hanna Bailey at the University of Oulu, Finland adds that the long-term decline of Arctic sea-ice since the late 1970s was the culprit behind the "Beast from the East." She explains that the 50% reduction in Arctic sea-ice cover has increased open-water and winter evaporation, which during that extreme snowfall event was estimated to supply 88% of the fresh snow across Europe. Using geochemistry, it was possible to track the origin of the European snowfall to the Barents Sea, which is located in the Arctic Ocean between Norway, Russia, and Svalbard.
"What we're finding is that sea-ice is effectively a lid on the ocean. And with its long-term reduction across the Arctic, we're seeing increasing amounts of moisture enter the atmosphere during winter, which directly impacts our weather further south, causing extreme heavy snowfalls. It might seem counter-intuitive, but nature is complex and what happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic." says Bailey.
The researchers were even able to calculate the numerical weight of loss sea ice as it is translated into snowfall: every square meter of winter sea-ice lost from the Barents Sea is equivalent to a 70 kg increase in the evaporation, moisture, and snow falling over Europe. As you can imagine, the predictions for an ice-free Barents Sea don’t bode well for Europe.
"This study illustrates that the abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now, really are affecting the entire planet" concludes Professor Hubbard.