The heat of September warms the North Atlantic, the Arctic oceans, sets records

Warmer-than-normal temperatures weren’t just confined to the American Southwest in early September.

A blast of heat over parts of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans continued a string of summer records that brought unusually warm temperatures to the coldest regions of the world.

A massive melting event occurred on the Greenland ice sheet last weekend as temperatures rose above freezing, even at an altitude of around 10,000 feet. At the same time, warmer water temperatures – up to 9 degrees above normal in parts of the North Atlantic Ocean – helped fuel the creation of a hurricane much further north than normal.

Three-month seasonal summaries released last week reported temperature and melt records in Greenland, Svalbard and the Swiss Alps. For scientists in the region, melting glaciers and warmer waters appear to be further evidence of climate change, although more research will be conducted to attribute specific events.

This summer “changed reality for alpine glaciers,” said Matthias Huss, professor of glaciology at ETH Zurich and Glacier Monitoring Switzerland. He finds the speed of melting in the Alps “difficult to accept”.

The footage shows the melting of the glacier in northern Greenland

A glacier in northern Greenland imaged during a NASA science flight on July 11, 2022.

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“In just two months, a mountain pass at Les Diablerets in western Switzerland, which had been covered in ice for several thousand years, became ice-free,” said Huss. All previous records have been shattered in a location monitored by the university’s glaciology group for more than 60 years.

“We measured 4 meters of melt at the highest observation site,” the group published this week. “Simply shocking and sad. This is an endangered glacier ”.

Hurricane Danielle formed on September 2 in a rare hurricane-creating region near the 40th parallel, escalating to sustained winds of 90 mph as it moved northeast. It eventually weakened in a tropical storm six days later.

“Normally when storms form this north, they quickly weaken due to the relatively cold water,” said Phil Klotzbach, a researcher in Colorado State University’s department of atmospheric science. Danielle’s “slow forward movement over water much warmer than normal allowed the storm to survive.”

The hurricane gathered fuel and energy from an ongoing sea heat wave in the Atlantic, said Dillon Amaya, a researcher who studies marine heat waves at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Physical Science Laboratory.

“The Atlantic is practically ablaze right now,” Amaya said, with the Gulf Stream bringing much warmer water to the region.

This NOAA image shows the anomalies in sea surface temperatures for the week of August 28, with the darker red showing water temperatures nearly 9 degrees above normal and the paler orange showing temperatures of around 1, 9 degrees above normal.
NOAA

Meanwhile, a “highly unusual” heat wave has brought winds and warmer temperatures over Greenland from the south, said Martin Stendel, a climate scientist at the National Center for Climate Research at the Danish Meteorological Institute. It’s a similar wind pattern to the one that brought the heat dome to the Pacific Northwest in 2021.

The polar jet stream is in “a very undulatory state at the moment,” flowing in a ring over Newfoundland and further north over western Greenland, then back south near Svalbard and northern Scandinavia, Stendel said. It is called the Omega block because it resembles the shape of the Greek letter Omega (Ω).

The warm air inside that circuit was up to 35 degrees above normal, Stendel said. Warmer air holds more water vapor, so warmer temperatures have dumped more precipitation on Greenland, much of it in the form of rain rather than snow.

Some climatologists suggest that summer fluctuations in the jet stream are increasing as the Arctic warms, slowing the jet stream and allowing pressure systems to amplify extremes of heat and rain, while others say more research is needed.

A series of graphs released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center this week surprised researchers with the outbreak of warm temperatures and melting seen around much of Greenland’s perimeter on Monday.

Nearly 40% of the Greenland ice sheet “experienced melting last weekend, which is exceptionally unusual for this time of year,” said Liam Colgan, senior researcher at the National Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

According to his data, South Greenland’s South Dome – an elevation of nearly 9,800 feet – “went above the freezing line at melting temperatures” on September 2, Colgan said. The weather station recorded a temperature of about half a degree above zero.

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Hot wind patterns blocking and the remnants of hurricanes ending up in the region when extra-tropical lows occur naturally, but such precipitation events are becoming more intense, Stendel said. “With temperatures generally rising, such events are likely to occur more frequently in the future, thereby increasing sea level rise.”

Colgan and other researchers recently concluded that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet could add at least one foot of sea level rise to the world’s oceans by 2100.

“Unusually large and late melting events are another sign that the ice sheet is trending toward a warmer climate,” Colgan said. “We hope that today’s extreme does not become tomorrow’s average”.

On the opposite side of the Omega block, where warm air flows south again, is Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, where many travel to see polar bears.

Svalbard recorded the hottest summer ever recorded on the islands’ western and southern ends, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute reported. Its summer average of 7.4 degrees Celsius was 0.2 degrees warmer than the previous record high in 2020 on September 2.

“There’s an end to the ‘refrigerator temperature’ you had before, when you could count on keeping fresh food in your backpack for several days if you were going out on a trip,” the Institute said in its update.

The summer average has exceeded the average of the previous decade by almost a full degree and the average of the last 30 years by nearly two degrees.

At the north end of Svalbard, the summer heat equaled the previous all-time record seen in 2018.

This satellite image of a portion of Nordaustlandet, an island in northeastern Svalbard, shows vast blue areas where layers of snow have melted and exposed bare ice, according to NASA.  A cluster of small blue spots in the upper right are melt ponds, while the colored water offshore is likely due to sediments eroded by ice flow on the bedrock and carried by meltwater into the adjacent Arctic Ocean.
This satellite image of a portion of Nordaustlandet, an island in northeastern Svalbard, shows vast blue areas where layers of snow have melted and exposed bare ice, according to NASA. A cluster of small blue spots in the upper right are melt ponds, while the colored water offshore is likely due to sediments eroded by ice flow on the bedrock and carried by meltwater into the adjacent Arctic Ocean.
Landsat 9 / NASA and the United States Geological Service

Svalbard is one of the fastest-warming places on the planet, according to the Earth Observatory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. His satellite photos show that record ice melt there this summer, starting with a previous-than-normal sea ice melt, has taken “a visible toll.”

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