News / Science & Technology

Is Shrinking Arctic Ice to Blame For Britain's Wet Summers?

Walking across London Bridge on a rainy, wet day in June 2011
Walking across London Bridge on a rainy, wet day in June 2011
Rick Pantaleo
If you lived in or visited Great Britain and northwest Europe during the summers of 2007 through 2012 you probably remember how rainy they were. 
 
Research just published by the science journal, “Environmental Research Letters” has added a new theory as a cause for the extraordinary soggy summers.  The study found that a loss of Arctic sea ice is pushing the jet stream further south than normal, which in turn is causing an increase in summer rainfall throughout northwest Europe.
 
Using a computer model, Dr. James Screen from the University of Exeter said that he was able to examine just how European summer climate is impacted by the dramatic retreat of sea ice in the Arctic. Plugging in a variable that included the Arctic ice loss, Screen said that the predicted pattern of rainfall produced by his model was very close to the rainfall pattern of recent northwest European summers.
 
"The results of the computer model suggest that melting Arctic sea ice causes a change in the position of the jet stream and this could help to explain the recent wet summers we have seen,” said Screen.  "The study suggests that loss of sea ice not only has an effect on the environment and wildlife of the Arctic region but has far reaching consequences for people living in Europe and beyond."
 
This shows the average location of the jet stream during wet summer months over northwest Europe.This shows the average location of the jet stream during wet summer months over northwest Europe.
x
This shows the average location of the jet stream during wet summer months over northwest Europe.
This shows the average location of the jet stream during wet summer months over northwest Europe.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), jet streams are narrow bands of strong wind, blowing usually 30 meters a second or more, located in the higher levels of the atmosphere.  The northern and southern hemispheres have two powerful jet streams each. In the northern hemisphere it’s the polar jet stream which usually sits at roughly 60°N latitude and the subtropical jet stream that is at roughly at 30°N latitude.  These jet streams are caused by the difference in temperature between tropical air masses and polar air masses and are responsible for guiding weather systems and their rain.  The jet streams do vary in size and shape, usually with the change of seasons.
 
The jet stream impacts weather patterns for Britain and northwest Europe because in summer, it usually lies between Scotland and Iceland, causing the weather systems to pass north of Britain. However, when the jet stream pushes further south in the summer, it brings along with it an incredible amount of wet weather to Britain and northwest Europe.
 
While Screen’s weather model has suggested an increase in summer rainfall for northwest Europe, it also has predicted that the Mediterranean regions will receive less rain.
 
These maps compare the Arctic ice minimum extents from 2012 (top) and 1984 (bottom). In 1984 the minimum Arctic sea ice extent was 6.70 million square kilometers. The minimum ice extent in 2012 was nearly half of that at 3.41 million square kilometers.These maps compare the Arctic ice minimum extents from 2012 (top) and 1984 (bottom). In 1984 the minimum Arctic sea ice extent was 6.70 million square kilometers. The minimum ice extent in 2012 was nearly half of that at 3.41 million square kilometers.
x
These maps compare the Arctic ice minimum extents from 2012 (top) and 1984 (bottom). In 1984 the minimum Arctic sea ice extent was 6.70 million square kilometers. The minimum ice extent in 2012 was nearly half of that at 3.41 million square kilometers.
These maps compare the Arctic ice minimum extents from 2012 (top) and 1984 (bottom). In 1984 the minimum Arctic sea ice extent was 6.70 million square kilometers. The minimum ice extent in 2012 was nearly half of that at 3.41 million square kilometers.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado the Arctic summer Arctic sea ice extent has been shrinking over the last ten years, meaning there has been more of a seasonal melt of Arctic sea ice.  There were record amounts of sea ice melt in the summers of 2007, 2011 and 2012, coincidently when Britain had very rainy summer weather.
 
There are, of course, a number of other factors along with the impact of melting Arctic sea ice that could also explain the recent run of wet summers.
 
Scientists have also been predicting a possible decade long cycle of wet summers in that part of the world due to a major warming in the North Atlantic Ocean in the 1990’s that has also had an effect on the jet stream.
 
To develop his findings, Screen compared the weather patterns that took place during these periods of low seasonal sea ice with the weather patterns that occurred during high seasonal sea ice conditions, such as those in the mid to late 1970’s. 
 
Since his study didn’t use any estimates of how much sea ice there will be in the future, Screen said it could not predict future weather. The results, he says, do suggest however that if sea ice loss continues as it has over recent decades, the risk of wet summers may increase.
 
While earlier this year many weather prognosticators were predicting that the summer of 2013 would another wet and soggy one for the UK, it turned out that overall the summer was drier than the long-term average. Except for parts of north-west England and the Midlands area in central England, all areas had a drier than average summer. In fact, according to the Met Office, the UK's National Weather Service it was the driest summer for the UK since 2003 and for England the driest since 1996.
 
The NSIDC also recently reported that because of a cool and stormy summer, the seasonal Arctic sea ice melt in 2013 was less than when it set a record in 2012.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs