The North Pole Is Now in a Death Spiral


Speaking of broken things, apparently we’ve broken the North Pole:

Something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia…“It’s about 20C [36 degrees Fahrenheit] warmer than normal over most of the Arctic Ocean, along with cold anomalies of about the same magnitude over north-central Asia,” Jennifer Francis, an Arctic specialist at Rutgers University, said by email Wednesday.

Here it is in graphical form:

Up until October, things were relatively normal—at least, as normal as they can be in the era of record-shattering climate change. In mid-October Arctic temperatures suddenly flattened and then rose, instead of continuing downward as winter progressed. What happened?

“The Arctic warmth is the result of a combination of record-low sea-ice extent for this time of year, probably very thin ice, and plenty of warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a very wavy jet stream.” Francis has published research suggesting that the jet stream, which travels from west to east across the Northern Hemisphere in the mid-latitudes, is becoming more wavy and elongated as the Arctic warms faster than the equator does.

….Mark Serreze, who heads the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., agrees that something odd is going on….What’s happening, he explains, is sort of a “double whammy.” On the one hand, there is a “very warm underlying ocean” due to the lack of sea ice forming above it. But, at the same time, kinks in the jet stream have allowed warm air to flow northward and frigid Arctic air to descend over Siberia.

So let’s see if I have this right:

  1. As the Arctic warms, the jet stream becomes more elongated.
  2. This transports warm tropical air to the polar regions….
  3. Which melts the ice, increases the temperature at the pole, and elongates the jet stream even further.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

We are so screwed.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.