Coral Harbour, Nunavut: On a typical mid-January day, the town drops to a low of –34°C (–29.2°F) and reaches a high of just -26°C (–14.8°F). Compare that to what Coral Harbour actually experienced in the first twelve days of January 2011, as reported by Environment Canada
* After New Year's Day, the town went 11 days without getting down to its average daily high.
* On the 6th of the month, the low temperature was –3.7°C (25.3°F). That's a remarkable 30°C (54°F) above average.
* On both the 5th and 6th, Coral Harbor inched above the freezing mark. Before this year, temperatures above 0°C (32°F) had never been recorded in the entire three months of January, February, and March.
Why so freakishly mild? One factor that both feeds and is fed by the warmth is the highly unusual amount of open water across seas that are normally frozen by late November. On the winter solstice (December 21), Hudson Bay was little more than half frozen (see map at right).
Similarly, a large swath of the Baffin/Newfoundland Sea fell weeks behind schedule in freezing up. As evident in the charts at bottom, these bodies of water remain in catch-up mode. Around the south part of Baffin Island, "the boats were still in the water during the first week of January," says David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada. "The Meteorological Service of Canada was still writing marine forecasts as of 7 January, well beyond anything we have ever done."
... the implications for people in the far north have been widespread. Nunavut's capital, Iqaluit, had to cancel its year-end snowmobile run on Frobisher Bay for the first time. "Last New Year's Eve, the big story was ice breaking up," says Phillips. "This year there was no ice to break up." Worst of all, he adds, "it's impossible for many people in parts of the eastern Arctic to safely get on the ice to hunt much-needed food for their families—for the second winter in a row. Never before have we seen weather impact a way of life in so many small and big ways."
Now imagine how warm it is going to be in the Arctic when during these kinds of heat waves are compounded by several decades of global warming:
- M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F — with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F
- UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but "we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon." [see figure]
How could the Greenland ice sheet possibly survive?