Melting sea ice in the Arctic.

(illustration) -

Torsten Blackwood AFP

The warming of the Arctic sea contributes directly to the extreme snowfall in Europe.

An icy episode, dubbed "the Beast from the East", illustrated this phenomenon in 2018, according to a study published this Thursday in 

Nature Geoscience


The event crippled much of northern Europe in February and March 2018 and cost more than a billion euros per day in the UK alone.

According to the study, these exceptional snowstorms were a direct consequence of the “unusually warm” waters in the Barents Sea, 60% of the surface of which had been freed from the pack ice a few weeks before.

The pack ice, a "cover over the ocean"

The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet.

This causes the polar vortex, the area of ​​cold air and low pressure typical of the poles during cold seasons, to move south.

“What we found is that sea ice is effectively a cover over the ocean,” says Hannah Bailey, lead author of the study.

“And with its long-term disappearance across the Arctic since the 1970s, more moisture enters the atmosphere during the winter,” continues the researcher.

“[This] has a direct impact on the weather further south, causing extreme episodes of snowfall.


Very real consequences in Europe

By measuring the isotopes in atmospheric water vapor, the researchers were able to quantify exactly how much excess moisture had been released from the Barents Sea prior to the 2018 episode. evaporated from the sea, or 88% of the humidity fell back into snow over Europe, according to their calculations.

According to the study, if current trends in global warming continue, the ice-free Barents Sea will be a major source of moisture for continental Europe.

This will cause heavy rains and snowfall and will have an impact on infrastructure and traffic: disruptions in the supply of food, fuel, destruction of crops, etc.

“It may seem counterintuitive” that a warming Arctic ocean is causing more snow in Europe, notes Hannah Bailey.

“But nature is complex and what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.



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