This has to be the most common question I get when I tell people I will be camping in Greenland for six weeks, right after they ask in they can come with me. It’s a good question, and one that I usually answer in a pretty general way. “Oh, in the single digits mostly” I’ll say to people who speak Celsius, or “30s and 40s, maybe even the 50s” to the Fahrenheit-friendly. And that’s about as specific and I get. One thing that 30 years of field work in the Arctic has taught me is that no two summers are exactly alike. It probably won’t go much below freezing, although we did find some new ice along the shore in 2006 – it was beautiful, but didn’t last long.
It will rain, there will be fog, and there will be beautiful blue skies, but how much of each is impossible to predict.
What does not seem to happen any more is snow. Way back in the 1990s a good snowfall at some point in the summer was pretty common – sometimes even a snowman’s worth. But things have changed and we haven’t seem more than a few flakes of summer snow for many years.
This year in particular, it looks like all bets are off for predicting the weather in the far north. The news is full of reports of the unusual conditions this spring. Globally, the temperatures are rising, and 2015 was the warmest year on record (The BBC has posted a great NOAA graphic showing this here). This year seems on track to break that record, as each of the last seven months has set a record for warmth. As this map of temperature anomalies (difference from average) in April 2016 shows, the greatest warming is in the north.
This year also saw the lowest maximum sea ice extent – the National Snow and Ice Data Center wrote about it here. North of Greenland large leads are appearing in the sea ice weeks earlier than usual, and already there have been two unusually large melting events on the Greenland icecap.
What these unusual conditions mean for this summer at Iita is anybody’s guess, but its bound to be interesting.