• Reading Level 5
Science | Geography | PSHE

Icy Arctic ‘vortex’ too cold for US polar bear

As freak weather sees North American temperatures plummet, climate change sceptics, who say ‘global weirding’ undermines climate science, face an online ban? Is this fair? Across the American continent, schools and businesses are closed, 5,000 flights have been grounded and roads are blocked by snow. If that's not sign enough of this week's record-breaking iciness, a Chicago zoo has deemed the outside too cold even for its resident polar bear, who has joined many Americans by retreating indoors. The daily workings of North America are being dramatically disrupted by the Polar Vortex, a whirlwind of extremely cold air that forms at the North Pole. Usually, these wind systems maintain a high speed, keeping the vortex stable and trapping the cold air over the Arctic. This time, however, the winds lost momentum, causing the cold air to spill southwards. The freak 20 degree plummet in temperature has chilled the US and Canada below the Arctic's relatively balmy -25C conditions. So officials have encouraged their communities (animals included) to stay indoors away from the treacherous -40C wind chill. Finding reasons for why the Polar Vortex slowed down may have larger implications for the debate about climateThe weather over a long period of time. change, because the peculiar behaviour of the Arctic winds was difficult to predict. Some scientists now describe such unexpected events as 'global weirding', where weather patterns are disrupted by complex shifts in the atmosphere. Some even believe that these new phenomena threaten the confident consensus of climate scientists, who argue that a steady, long-term trend of warming in the Earth's atmosphere is occurring, with some of it caused by humans burningn fossil fuelsFuels made from decomposing plants and animals, including coal, natural gas and oil. These fuels release carbon dioxide, causing global warming.. If so, 'weirding' would play into the hands of climateThe weather over a long period of time. scepticsThose who doubt commonly accepted opinions - named after the "skeptic" philosophers of Ancient Greece.. Now, RedditAn American social news and discussion website. It has 1.66 billion monthly users worldwide. , the popular online discussion site, has caused uproar by banning those who doubt the existence of climate change from commenting in its science forum. Typically a fierce defender of free speech, Reddit has drawn criticism for the move. But the site says a small minority of aggressive campaigners were making reasoned debate impossible. Controversy hots up First 'global warming', then 'climate change', and now 'global weirding'? Climate sceptics argue that certainty on this topic is impossible: events like the New Year super-freeze in America offer proof of one fact only: that no one really knows what's happening to the atmosphere. So should recent errors in climate forecasts open up space for doubt? Not at Reddit, where moderators argue that the extremely complex debate about climate change has become overheated by the emotionally-charged arguments of the sceptics: pursuit of cold, hard, scientific truth should be carried out only by those who can keep cool heads. But others are uncomfortable or even angry about its decision, decrying such 'censorship': how can a major scientific discussion forum ban one side of such a significant argument? KeywordsClimate - The weather over a long period of time.

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