Polar science will continue to have a global impact, whether you believe in man-made climate change or not, says an expert.

Global warming was always an unfortunate use of 'framing' by policy-oriented scientists who were out of their league and political groups looking to mobilize their base.   Climate change was always the issue and change can mean warming ... which leads to cooling.

For example, a warmer Arctic climate influences air pressure at the North Pole and shifts wind patterns, meaning warming results in more cold and snowy winters in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America, says Dr. James Overland of the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in the United States, chairing a session on polar climate feedbacks, amplification and teleconnections, including impacts on mid-latitudes at the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference (IPY-OSC).

Continued rapid loss of sea ice will be an important driver of major change in the world's climate system in the years to come.

"While the emerging impact of greenhouse gases is an important factor in the changing Arctic, what was not fully recognised until now is that a combination of an unusual warm period due to natural variability, loss of sea ice reflectivity, ocean heat storage and changing wind patterns working together has disrupted the memory and stability of the Arctic climate system, resulting in greater ice loss than earlier climate models predicted," says Overland.  "The exceptional cold and snowy winter of 2009-2010 in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America is connected to unique physical processes in the Arctic." 

The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, he says. This is called Arctic amplification, obviously a much-debated phenomenon elsewhere and at the IPY-OSC, where 2400 polar scientists have gathered to discuss the huge amount of research and new findings which are the direct result of the International Polar Year.

The changes are happening a great deal faster than the scientific community expected. Given the recent reduction of the area of multi-year sea ice and reduced ice thickness, it is unlikely that the Arctic can return to its previous condition, Overland says.  "The changes are irreversible."