The Arctic is further protected from overheating by the polar jet stream, which keeps cold air in the Arctic and keeps warm air out.
|The polar jet stream can travel at speeds greater than 100 mph. Here, the fastest winds are colored red; slower winds are blue. View animated version here. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center|
Accelerated warming in the Arctic can alter the polar jet stream in a number of ways, firstly by slowing its speed and secondly by increasing its waviness. Larger swings in the jet stream allow frigid air from the Arctic to plunge farther south, as well as warm, moist tropical air to penetrate northward, explains Jennifer Francis, research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University.
Accelerated warming in the Arctic comes with many feedbacks, and this "open doors feedback" is only one of them. Higher temperatures and more open water in the Arctic can also be expected to increase the danger that storms will batter the sea ice with greater ferocity.
In many ways, it's opening the doorways to doom. The biggest danger is that Arctic methane stores will weaken, causing huge amounts of methane to be released, triggering warming that could escalate into runaway global warming.