Saturday round-up: All quiet on the northern seas

The Arctic may become more serene, as a slowly warming sea stabilises atmospheric circulation, reducing the frequency of "polar lows", with the progress of climate change. Image © Science/AAAS

The Arctic may become more serene, as a slowly warming sea stabilises atmospheric circulation, reducing the frequency of "polar lows", with the progress of climate change. Image © Science/AAAS

Highly-waterproofed sailors used to fighting howling winds and avoiding icebergs in the world’s northernmost oceans are set to have their struggles eased by climate change. That’s because, not only is Arctic ice area decreasing, but severe North Atlantic storms will decrease in frequency as the world warms.

These storms are small and therefore difficult to observe, Matthias Zahn and Hans von Storch from Germany’s GKSS Research Centre write in top journal Nature this week, but still dangerous. “Accompanied by strong winds and heavy precipitation, these often explosively developing cyclones – termed polar lows – constitute a threat to offshore activities such as shipping or oil and gas exploitation,” they say.

Polar lows, or ‘Arctic hurricanes’, start as low level airflows that are built up by air circulation caused by large temperature differences between different levels of the atmosphere. They occur every winter, and while there are weaknesses in direct historical measurement, a previous simulation based on climate data from 1948–2006 showed an average of 56 polar lows per year.

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