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Events in the arctic may not trigger colder winters elsewhere

Recent studies have suggested that there is a connection between Arctic events and colder winters in moderate latitudes, like the Polar Vortex cold waves in North America, yet the underlying mechanism that links these incidents has remained unclear. 

On the other hand, a new study from the University of Groningen has revealed that even though cold winters tend to coincide with melting events in the Arctic, there is no causal relationship involved.

The chaotic nature of the climate system has made it challenging to investigate the potential for such a connection between Arctic events and ice-cold winters elsewhere. 

For the first time, researchers used a very extensive set of data produced by two detailed climate models, including the KNMI climate model EC-Earth. This massive dataset made it possible for the team to identify statistical connections that were previously overlooked. 

After analyzing relevant information, the researchers determined that even when cold winters and Arctic sea ice decline occur at the same time, one does not trigger the other. Both events appear to be the result of a completely different mechanism: large-scale anomalies in atmospheric circulation. 

Significantly, both climate models used for the investigation produced the exact the same conclusion. In addition, a simulation of Arctic sea ice decrease did not lead to cold winters. 

“The findings in our article show that a further decrease in Arctic sea ice in the near future will most likely not lead to more and intense wintry cold waves, because episodes with little Arctic sea ice are the result of unusual atmospheric circulation patterns, and not the cause,” said study co-author Professor Richard Bintanja.

The research is published in the journal Nature Climate Change

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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Image Credit: Richard Bintanja

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