This month’s Yale Climate Connections “This is Not Cool” video addresses questions related to the what, how, and why of changing Arctic sea ice. And it explores the impacts of those changes on weather patterns far and wide.

Sea ice photo

The video by Peter Sinclair explores the perspectives of leading sea ice experts. In a span of six minutes, those experts paint an all-you-may-ever-need-to-know portrait of the Arctic’s changing sea ice. And they explain how those changes are altering weather patterns in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The experts show how Arctic sea ice thickness, coverage, and volume are declining and how those declines accelerate the amount of sea ice being exported away from the Arctic. They explain how wind and wave actions are eating away at the increasing chunks of ice floating in the sea. And how those interactions inevitably leading to a continuing pattern of more of the same.

In just three or four decades, says Jeremy Wilkinson of the British Antarctic Survey, the top of the world has shifted from a blanket of white to patterns of dark blue and black as so much ice has melted. Even in a 2016 summer “not particularly favorable to sea ice loss … a somewhat less than an extreme year,” says Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, warmer water and air in the Arctic were “still enough to produce an extreme result.”

NASA Goddard scientist Walt Meier notes that as early as April 2016, scientists were finding “fairly large areas of open water north of Alaska.” That’s earlier than usual by at least a month.

Cyclones moving across the Arctic in past decades more or less “skittered across the top” of the ice. Now they and winds associated with them increasingly feed the melting processes further. Now they spread the thin ice out, making it more vulnerable to still more melting, Scambos explains.

“We just don’t have much ice left in the Arctic,” Scambos says.

So what’s it matter? Texas Tech University scientist Katharine Hayhoe asks rhetorically. “That’s up there. Why does that matter to us?”

She and the other scientists answer that question by illustrating how the warming in the Arctic is leading to changes in the jet stream that drives the weather in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe. “That is leading to more extreme heat waves, storms, and cold,” says Meier. Making warm weather warmer and cool weather cooler, and changing storm patterns across the U.S.

As one scientist sums things up, “There’s pretty good evidence starting to mount now that it is related to the ongoing reduction of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere.”

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