Baked Alaska: December seeing unusual warmth across most of the Arctic

Scientists say some of it is the result of random weather from storms, but some is from low sea ice due to climate change caused by people.

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Waves from the Bering Sea splash up on a jetty in Nome, Alaska. Much of the Arctic is in a burst of freak December 2022 warming.

Waves from the Bering Sea splash up on a jetty in Nome, Alaska. Much of the Arctic is in a burst of freak December 2022 warming.

Peggy Fagerstrom / AP

Much of the Arctic is in a burst of freak December warming.

Utqiagvik, Alaska’s northernmost community, formerly known as Barrow, hit 40 degrees Monday — a record by six degrees that also wass the warmest that region has seen on record from late October to late April, according to Rick Thoman, a climate specialist with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“The entire Arctic is hot except for small portions of the central and eastern Canadian Arctic and a very small portion of Siberia,” Thoman said from a warmer-than-normal Fairbanks.

Part of the reason for that is a system of storms, likely just random weather. But part of it is because of lower-than-normal sea ice, a result of human-caused climate change, Thoman said.

Sea ice in the Arctic is about the sixth-lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Sea ice matters because, in areas of the Arctic there’s no sun in the winter, and the atmosphere is cold. If there’s open water, though, it’s usually warmer than the atmosphere.

“Think of that as a heating pad, and it’s just emitting heat into the atmosphere,” Thoman said.

Because of that reduced sea ice, much of the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the globe, which leads to an increase in “winter warm events,” said Danish Meteorological Service ice scientist Jason Box, who studies Greenland.

“Some people cry, ‘Come off it, it’s just weather,’ ” Box said. “However, record-setting weather like we’re seeing plenty of examples of in recent years does tell a real story of climate heating.”

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