If you’re feeling like we’re in a god-awful cold spell, stop bitching: this is supposed to be normal weather this time of year. You just haven’t had a chance to get acclimated to it.
Temperatures in Longyearbyen were more than 10 degrees Celsius above normal during the months from December to February, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. That’s part of a general trend across the Arctic that has resulted in record-low sea ice levels (none is expected to form in western Spitsbergen this year), far outpacing a 1.35-degree increase in global temperatures during 2015.
The heat wave has resulted in both annoying situations (such as the Noorderlicht not being available this year as the famous “hotel in the ice”) and serious ones (such as three snowmobilers breaking through dangerously thin sea ice on the east coast about a week ago). It also means hunting areas are scarce this spring for polar bears emerging from their dens, which will likely result in higher cub mortality rates and more seeking out of land-based sources of food.
Longyearbyen experienced heavy flooding in late December when temperatures soared to a record nine degrees Celsius a few days after the Dec. 19 avalanche that was triggered by one of the worst storms to hit the archipelago. The highest temperature in January was 6.6 degrees on Jan. 2, compared to the normal average of minus 15.3 degrees during the month. The average temperature in February was minus 5.6 degrees, or 10.6 degrees above normal.
But while the scientific consensus is the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the freak heat from the past few months isn’t entirely due to climate change.
“This is what we would expect, given the big El Nino event that is currently occurring in the Pacific,” said Ed Hawkins, a climate scientists at University of Reading, said in an interview with The Independent of London. “We expect to see global averages to remain very warm for the next few months before a slight drop in monthly temperatures towards the end of the year.”
“This is in line with our expectations that due to the continuing effect of greenhouse gas emissions, combined with the effects of El Nino on top, 2016 is likely to beat 2015 as the warmest year on record,” he said.
In December 2015, 195 nations agreed at the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris to a climate deal seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a net zero by 2100, and shifting from fossil fuels in favor of greener energies such as solar and wind power. They also set a goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times, while “pursuing efforts” for a 1.5C (2.7F) limit.