ROME: Sea ice extent was the lowest ever in the 38-year-old satellite record for the month of January, both at the Arctic and Antarctic, putting Asia and Africa at high risk of extreme weather events, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.
Reports from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said that global average surface temperatures for the month of January were the third highest on record, after January 2016 and January 2007, the WMO said.
According to NOAA, the average temperature was 0.88°C above the 20th century average of 12°C. The European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, Copernicus Climate Change Service, said it was the second warmest on record.
“More significant than the individual monthly rankings is the long-term trend of rising temperatures and climate change indicators such as CO2 concentrations (406.13 parts per million at the benchmark Mauna Loa Observatory in January compared to 402.52 ppm in January 2016, according to NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory).”|
Meantime, the largest positive temperature departures from average in January were seen across the eastern half of the contiguous US, Canada, and in particular the Arctic. The high Arctic temperatures also persisted in the early part of February.
“At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heat-wave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air and increasing temperatures to near freezing point,” the WMO said.
This way, the temperature in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, north of Norway, topped 4.1°C on 7 February.
The world’s northernmost land station, Kap Jessup on the tip of Greenland, swung from -22°C to +2°C in 12 hours between 9 and 10 February, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.
“Temperatures in the Arctic are quite remarkable and very alarming,” said World Climate Research Programme‘s Director David Carlson. “The rate of change in the Arctic and resulting shifts in wider atmospheric circulation patterns, which affect weather in other parts of the world, are pushing climate science to its limits.”
As a result of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air which helps regulate temperatures – much of Europe, the Arabian peninsular and North Africa were unusually cold, as were parts of Siberia and the western USA.
Sea ice extent lowest in 4 decades
Sea ice extent was the lowest on record for the month of January, both at the Arctic and Antarctic, according to both the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and Germany’s Sea Ice Portal operated by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut.
Arctic sea ice extent averaged 13.38 million square kilometers in January, according to NSIDC. This is 260,000 square kilometers below January 2016, the previous lowest January extent – an area bigger than the size of the United Kingdom. It was 1.26 million square kilometers (the size of South Africa) below the January 1981 to 2010 long-term average.
“The recovery period for Arctic sea ice is normally in the winter, when it gains both in volume and extent. The recovery this winter has been fragile, at best, and there were some days in January when temperatures were actually above melting point,” said Carlson.
“This will have serious implications for Arctic sea ice extent in summer as well as for the global climate system. What happens at the poles does not stay at the poles.”
WMO confirmed that the Antarctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record. A change in wind patterns, which normally spread out the ice, contracted it instead.
Climate change alarm in Asia
Meanwhile, Asia is set to witness a new, extreme weather alert. On this the UN specialized body also warned that climate change, environmental degradation, population growth and urbanization are putting pressure on water supplies in many parts of the Asian region, and exposure to extreme weather and other hazards is increasing.
The most populated region on Earth is impacted by a wide range of natural hazards: tropical cyclones and storm surges; heat and cold waves; drought and wildfires; intense precipitation, flooding and landslides, and sand and dust storms. Air pollution is an additional major concern.
“2016 was the hottest year on record, beating even the exceptionally high temperatures of 2015 because of a combination of long-term climate change and the strong El Niño,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“There is increasing evidence that warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are affecting ocean circulation and the jet stream, disrupting weather patterns in lower latitudes in Asia. Glacier melt is linked, in the short term, to hazards like flooding and landslides and, in the long term, to water stress for millions of people.”
According to Taalas, “In the last decades, the countries in the Asian region have been exposed to weather and climate events of increased intensity and frequency… The year 2016 was no exception.” India, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait all saw peak temperatures of more than 50°C last summer. Many other parts of Asia also saw heat waves.
In view of this situation, the WMO’s Regional Association for Asia’s four-yearly conference, held on 12-16 February in Au Dhabi, discussed how best to support implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and associated moves towards a low-carbon economy, including through targeted climate services for the energy, water, transport, industry, agriculture and land use sectors.
Drought set to worsen in Africa
In parallel, many parts of the Greater Horn of Africa are expected to receive below average rainfall in the important March to May rainy season, worsening food security and water availability in countries already seriously hit by drought, according to a new seasonal outlook issued by the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum.
“What makes the current drought alarming in the Equatorial Greater Horn of Africa region is that it follows two consecutive poor rainfall seasons in 2016, and the likelihood of depressed rainfall persisting into the March-May 2017 rainfall season remains high,” said the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC), which convened the regional forum.
“The situation will be worse in countries already experiencing drought, including Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, parts of Uganda, South Sudan and parts of Tanzania. Many parts of the region will experience serious water stress.”
With the exception of Sudan and Rwanda, the October – December 2016 rains failed in most countries in region.
Contributing factors include the weak La Niña, which has just ended, and reduced moisture influx due to the cooling of the ocean water in the east African coast. IPS