November 10, 2006

Resolute basks in hottest October in 59 years

“It’s going to be a very mild winter across the Arctic”

JANE GEORGE

While Resolute Bay’s temperatures broke records in October, the upper atmosphere is also experiencing a heat wave. These red rings around the sun, photographed last month, are a kind of heat-induced mirage and show the atmosphere is warming significantly, says Resolute Bay’s resident sun watcher, Wayne Davidson. (COURTESY OF WAYNE DAVIDSON)

Temperatures hovering near the freezing mark created a heat wave of sorts in Resolute Bay last month, with records broken throughout the last two weeks of the month.

On Oct. 17, according to Environment Canada’s Arctic Weather Bureau in Edmonton, the temperature in Resolute reached .8°C. This broke a record of -1.4°C set in 2002 for that date, and set a new extreme maximum for the entire month.

Records for daily high temperatures were also broken on eight other days during October, and the average temperature for October was -6.2°C, more than seven degrees higher than the normal average temperature of -14.9°C for October.

In fact, October 2006 broke the previous monthly average record of -9.2°C, set in 1955, making this past October the warmest in Resolute in 59 years.

Environment Canada weather operator Wayne Davidson says the “surreal” land temperatures reflect a heat wave going on in the High Arctic’s upper atmosphere.

Davidson is a long-time observer of the sun and light, which he say offer insight into what is going on in the climate. He says red rings around the sun are heat-induced mirages, a sign that the atmosphere is warming significantly.

These red rings show clearly in a photo taken in Resolute on Oct. 25, when temperatures were about 12°C above normal.

“The number of lines is the key, and there shouldn’t be that many,” Davidson says. “This means the atmosphere above [the surface of the earth] is warm.”

Davidson says, due to the warm conditions, the sun also appears to be rounder than ever on the horizon. In the weeks leading up to the polar sunset on Nov. 9 in Resolute, Davidson says he found the sun similar in shape to those sun discs seen in Montreal during the middle of summer.

As winter approaches, Davidson says North America appears to be cooling, but not the Arctic – or at least not as fast as the continent. Meanwhile, the northern latitudes are also being affected by El Niño, a major warming of the equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean.

El Niños usually occur every three to seven years, causing shifts in “normal” weather patterns.

Despite the El Niño to the west, Davidson says “all the same things that happened last year” will occur this year, only more strongly. This means that winter in the Eastern Arctic should be “the same as last year” – that is, warm.

“It’s going to be a very mild winter,” Davidson predicts.

In his opinion, the Arctic’s “quite unusual warming” can only be explained by the atmosphere as a whole being warmer, mainly from more open ice, free sea water, a huge cloud coverage, and finally from a warmer atmosphere to start with.

“This makes it very nearly certain that the coming winter will be like autumn for most North American locations,” Davidson says.

Although the temperatures cooled off in Resolute Bay last week, the ice is just now beginning to form.

“The polar bears are still seen falling through the ice. It’s a rough time for them,” Davidson says.

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