MONTREAL • Temperatures at the North Pole have risen above freezing point, 20 deg C above the mid-winter norm and the latest abnormality in a season of extreme weather events.
The Canadian weather authorities blamed the temperature spike on the freak depression that has brought record Christmas temperatures and floods to North America as well as South America.
The deep low pressure area, currently looming over Iceland, is dragging warm air northwards.
"It's a very violent and extremely powerful depression, so it's not surprising that high temperatures have been pushed so far north," Canadian government meteorologist Nathalie Hasell was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "This deep depression has pushed hot air as far as the North Pole, where temperatures are at least 20 degrees above normal, at around freezing point, between zero and two degrees."
US scientists from the North Pole Environmental Observatory told Agence France-Presse that the temperatures had climbed suddenly.
An Arctic monitoring point 300km from the Pole that had been recording minus 37 deg C on Monday had shot up to minus 8 deg C by Wednesday, said senior researcher James Morison.
The Washington Post said data from the International Arctic Buoy Programme confirmed that temperatures very close to the North Pole surpassed the melting point on Wednesday. It said a buoy at a latitude of 87.45 degrees North hit a high temperature of 0.7 deg C. That means the area around the North Pole was about as warm as Chicago on Wednesday, and quite a few degrees warmer than much of the US Midwest, according to the Post.
The polar region is the area of the world that has seen the most profound effects of climate change in recent decades. Average year- round temperatures in the Arctic are 3 deg C higher than they were in the pre-industrial era, snowfall is heavier, winds are stronger and the ice sheet has been shrinking for 30 years. But it would be too hasty to pin this week's extreme weather directly on the man-made climate change phenomenon rather than on a discrete anomaly.
Ms Hasell said Canada has not kept complete records of North Pole weather, but that it was nonetheless "bizarre" to see such high temperatures on the ice pack in the middle of its long night.