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Just days before Christmas in 2016, the North Pole was 50 degrees above its usual winter temperature. The top of the world was just above freezing.
Unusually warm air had smothered the Arctic throughout that year, and now a recently published report, led by government scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), found that it’s nearly impossible to explain the intensity of this warmth simply by normal fluctuations in weather.
A heating event like this isn’t natural, they argue — it’s largely human-induced, specifically by the greenhouse gases emitted by human industry and trapped in the atmosphere.
Scientists have long predicted that the Arctic would show extreme, amplified consequences of these emissions, particularly as sea ice melts and plummets in size.
“It’s been said the Arctic is the canary in the coal mine,” NOAA meteorologist and study co-author Martin Hoerling said in a statement. “The canary in the coal mine really chirped loudly in 2016. This is where the signal is clearly emerging beyond the noise, and it affirms predictions of how climate change will unfold on Earth.”
The research team was able to show that back in the late 1800s, when greenhouse gas emissions were considerably lower than they are today, such abnormal Arctic heat waves would have a “near zero” chance of occurring, Lantao Sun, an NOAA atmospheric scientist and lead author of the study, said in an email.