1,900 Cyclones Whip the Arctic Every Year

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Santa’s reindeer must be trained to fly through severe weather around the North Pole.

Approximately 1,900 cyclones per year whirl across the Arctic, churning the ocean and potentially contributing to the loss of sea ice. The Arctic System Reanalysis (ASR) research group recently counted the Arctic twisters and found approximately 40 percent more than expected.

“We now know there were more cyclones than previously thought, simply because we’ve gotten better at detecting them,” said ASR study leader David Bromwich, professor of geography at Ohio State University, in a press release.

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“We can’t yet tell if the number of cyclones is increasing or decreasing, because that would take a multidecade view. We do know that, since 2000, there have been a lot of rapid changes in the Arctic — Greenland ice melting, tundra thawing — so we can say that we’re capturing a good view of what’s happening in the Arctic during the current time of rapid changes.”

Many of the cyclones were small and lasted only a short time. The storms often raged over unpopulated areas so the only way to observe them was with satellite imagery, weather balloons, buoys and weather stations on the ground. A supercomputer at Ohio State crunched that weather data to detect previously unseen cyclones. The data ranged from 2000-2010.

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Although unseen, the storms may play apart in the record reductions in sea ice in the Arctic. As the storms trouble the waters of the Arctic Ocean, they pull up warmer, deeper water. When the warmer water mixes with the surface water, it may speed the disappearance of the ice.

The ASR team presented their research at the  American Geophysical Union meeting on December 12.

IMAGE: An unusually strong storm formed off the coast of Alaska on Aug. 5, 2012 and tracked into the center of the Arctic Ocean, where it slowly dissipated. (NASA, Wikimedia Commons)