A rare summer storm blasted the Arctic this week, beginning off the coast of Alaska, and moving over much of the Arctic Sea for several days before dissipating.
Although the storm itself was uncommon — NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., estimates that there have only been about eight similarly strong August storms in the last 34 years — the real news behind the meteorological event is the stunning Aug. 6 photo taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The cyclone is spinning toward the North Pole, with Greenland visible in the bottom-left of the image. Scientists are left speculating what the impact of such a storm could be.
Arctic storms such as this one can have a large impact on the sea ice, causing it to melt rapidly through many mechanisms, such as tearing off large swaths of ice and pushing them to warmer sites, churning the ice and making it slushier, or lifting warmer waters from the depths of the Arctic Ocean.
“It seems that this storm has detached a large chunk of ice from the main sea ice pack. This could lead to a more serious decay of the summertime ice cover than would have been the case otherwise, even perhaps leading to a new Arctic sea ice minimum,” said Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist with NASA Goddard. “Decades ago, a storm of the same magnitude would have been less likely to have as large an impact on the sea ice, because at that time the ice cover was thicker and more expansive.”
More information on the abnormal Arctic weather this summer can be found here, courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.