OSU Prof: Warming Polar Cyclones More Frequent Than Thought

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OSU Geography professor David Bromwich
OSU Geography professor David Bromwich

A new analysis of polar weather data has shown that 1,900 cyclones churned across the top of the world each year from 2000 to 2010. That’s 40 percent more than previously thought. An Ohio State University professor analyzed the data that led to the finding.

Ohio State professor David Bromwich teaches geography, but his expertise is polar weather and climate. In a study funded by the National Science Foundation, Bromwich used the Ohio supercomputer to analyze Arctic weather data spanning an eleven-year period.

“Our task was to synthesize a vast array of weather observations – from the surface, atmosphere and from satellites – for what I call the greater Arctic, which stretches roughly from Columbus, Ohio, to the North Pole,” Bromwich says.

Cyclones are areas of low pressure with winds that swirl around them creating temperature extremes.

“On their eastern side they bring warm air because they’re blowing air from south to the north. And on the west side, they bring cold air because they are blowing air from the north to the south. And in fact we’ve just seen this low pressure system go by here and we had snow and we’re getting into very cold air so it’s exactly the same thing,” Bromwich says.

The same system that’s brought harsh freezing temperatures to Central Ohio might also have an impact on the northern polar region.

“The summer sea ice is retreating quite rapidly. There’s melting in the Greenland ice sheet, the tundra regions of Russia and Canada are thawing out quite rapidly, so most of these things are related to what the atmosphere is doing and in particular these low pressure systems – how many of them there are and where they are and how intense they are,” Bromwich says

Some polar cyclones are known as Alberta clippers, Bromwich says.

“These small-scale cyclones that form in Alberta, they move pretty rapidly through the Columbus area. They form to the northwest of us here and then they move across this area in cold air outbreaks and bring us snow, not too much snow, and cold air behind them,” Bromwich says.

Bromwich says polar climate research gives scientists greater ability to predict the impact of future climate change.

“I think we need to better understand the Arctic because it’s one of what we think is the biggest signals of climate change on the planet. There are very dramatic changes happening. And the idea is that if we understand today better, we should be able to predict the future with much more confidence,” Bromwich says.

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