It’s going to be the hottest year on record — by a long shot. Just ask Gavin Schmidt at a NASA that the climate change denying Trump Administration has now imperiled. But in one region — the Arctic — the rate of heat accumulation has been outrageously extreme. And it is there that this new record warmth could inflict some of the worst damage to an increasingly fragile Earth System.
Summer Heat During Fall Above 80 North
For in the Arctic Ocean above the 80 degree north latitude line which encircles the crest of our world, temperatures today are around 17 degrees Celsius above average. These are the warmest temperatures for this region ever recorded. And they include numerous locations in which temperatures spike to well above 20 C (36 F) warmer than average.
(Temperatures above the 80 degree north latitude line during mid November are about equal to what you would typically expect for late summer. This record warmth in the Arctic is notably severe and could produce serious near term climate and weather impacts. Image source: DMI.)
Taken in total, this region — one that includes the North Pole — is currently experiencing temperatures that it would typically see from September 15 through 21. In other words, it’s about as warm now, on November 14th, in the zone surrounding the North Pole as it typically is during the last week of summer.
It wouldn’t be quite so bad if temperatures had simply rocketed to new highs on this particular day as part of a wild temperature swing. Unfortunately, readings instead have remained consistently high throughout autumn. They have levitated off the baseline 1958-2002 average range for the better part of 80 days. And as temperatures maintained near late summer or early fall averages, the departure from normal (represented by the green line in the graph above) has continued to intensify throughout November. Such long-term maintenance of high temperatures risks producing some severe lasting impacts on both the Arctic and the global environment.
The North Pole’s Big Red Hole
The temperature range we see now is nothing less than astonishing and, to this particular observer, terrifying. A huge hole has been blown in the heart of what should be the building cold of winter. And if it doesn’t reform soon, it will have some serious knock-on climate effects to include worsening atmospheric circulation changes, related increasingly extreme weather, impacts to growing seasons, impacts to sea ice, impacts to Greenland ice, and impacts to life in the Arctic and beyond.
(Today, large swaths of the Arctic Ocean are expected to see temperatures hit 20 C [36 F] + warmer than normal. These temperatures are so high that recently ice-covered sections will, over the next five days, experience temperatures between -2 C and 0 C — or warm enough to produce temporary melt. Such a condition has never been witnessed to the extent that it is now so late in the year. A clear sign that global warming is starting to bite deeper than we had hoped. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer. Note — the map shows temperature departures above [red shift] and below [blue shift] the, already warmer than normal, 1979-2000 baseline average.)
This record fall warmth appears to be part of an ever-more-pervasive ‘death of winter’ type scenario related to human-caused global warming. And unless temperatures in the Arctic revert back toward base-line pretty soon, we are at increasing risk of hitting some state-change tipping points. In particular, these center around a nearer term loss of Arctic Ocean ice than expected. An event that could happen this year if we experience an anomalously warm winter followed by a similarly warm summer — but one that many experts expect to hold off until the 2030s. An alteration that, longer term, under the continued fossil fuel burning presently promoted by the Trump Administration, basically removes winter as a season pretty much altogether (at least as we know it).