With Christmas nearly upon us, Santa will not only have his work cut out for him, but he will no doubt be building up a sweat this year considering that temperatures at his home in the North Pole are an unprecedented 20°C (36°F) warmer than average at the moment, according to a report recently published in the Washington Post.
The Arctic is currently experiencing a polar night, during which time the sun barely ever makes an appearance. During these polar night periods it is typically dark and very, very cold in the North Pole, allowing dense ice sheets to build up over the winter.
Arctic Sea ice reached its annual low at the end of summer, and although it is reforming, the rate at which this is happening is much slower that it usually is. As a result, sea ice coverage is currently even lower than the record low coverage witnessed in 2012.
According to Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Petteri Taalas, temperatures in some parts of the Russian Arctic were as much as 6°C to 7°C (10.8 to 12.6°F) higher than the long-term average, while many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Alaska, northwest Canada and Russia were at least 3°C (5.4°F) higher than normal. The WMO expects 2016 will be the hottest year we have yet experienced since scientists started monitoring atmospheric temperatures.
We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different, Taalas points out.
Last year temperatures at the North Pole were also uncharacteristically high. The winter of 2015 saw a dramatic temperature spike with temperatures rising to near melting point due to warm air being fed into the Arctic by a massive freak storm.
Now, if you wondering what’s causing these unprecedented temperature spikes that are making Santa sweat, the answer is it’s climate change related. And while Donald Trump may argue that point, with no scientific backup to support him, scientists such as Jennifer Francis, whose research focus and speciality is the Arctic, point out that these temperature surges in the Arctic are related to global climate change.
“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,”
Weather stations in the Arctic show that warm air has been flowing into the region since October. According to Richard James, a meteorologist and blogger who has been keeping track of 19 weather stations in the Arctic Ocean, the lowest daily high temperature recorded this winter is –5.6°C (22°F), which is abnormally high for this time of year. The last time temperatures were this high at this time of the year was in 1998, which saw a daily high of –9.5°C (15°F) on the coldest day in mid-November.
These uncharacteristically high temperatures may have dire consequences for Arctic wildlife, notably polar bears, that congregate on the Arctic sea ice at this time of year to hunt seals — their primary prey. If the ice is too thin it will not be able to carry the weight of these large predators, which could spell disaster for the polar bear population, which is already under threat.
So for the sake of Santa, his reindeer and polar bears, here’s hoping things cool down in the North Pole soon.