The link between hotter wildfires and melting Arctic ice : Short Wave In the Arctic Ocean, sea ice is shrinking as the climate heats up. In the Western U.S., wildfires are getting increasingly destructive. Those two phenomena are thousands of miles apart, but scientists are uncovering a surprising connection. The ice is connected to weather patterns that reach far across North America. And as the climate keeps changing and sea ice shrinks, Western states could be seeing more extreme weather, the kind that fuels extreme wildfires.

Check out the full series about how melting ice affects us all: npr.org/icemelt.

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Wildfires are bigger. Arctic ice is melting. Now, scientists say they're linked

Wildfires are bigger. Arctic ice is melting. Now, scientists say they're linked

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Left: On Sept. 27, 2020, the Glass Fire burns a hillside above Silverado Trail in St. Helena, Calif. Right: The ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is shrinking as the climate gets hotter. Scientists are finding it could be linked to weather that's helping fuel disasters. Left: Noah Berger/AP Right: Andy Mahoney/University of Alaska Fairbanks hide caption

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Left: Noah Berger/AP Right: Andy Mahoney/University of Alaska Fairbanks

Left: On Sept. 27, 2020, the Glass Fire burns a hillside above Silverado Trail in St. Helena, Calif. Right: The ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is shrinking as the climate gets hotter. Scientists are finding it could be linked to weather that's helping fuel disasters.

Left: Noah Berger/AP Right: Andy Mahoney/University of Alaska Fairbanks

In the Arctic Ocean, sea ice is shrinking as the climate heats up. In the Western U.S., wildfires are getting increasingly destructive. Those two impacts are thousands of miles apart, but scientists are beginning to find a surprising connection.

For Arctic communities like the coastal village of Kotzebue, Alaska, the effects of climate change are unmistakable. The blanket of ice that covers the ocean in the winter is breaking up earlier in the spring and freezing up later in the fall. For the Iñupiaq people who depend on the ice, it's disrupting their way of life.

But what happens in the Arctic goes far beyond its borders. The ice is connected to weather patterns that reach far across North America. And scientists are finding, as the climate keeps changing and sea ice shrinks, that Western states could be seeing more extreme weather, the kind that fuels extreme wildfires.

This is part of a series of stories by NPR's Climate Desk, Beyond the Poles: The far-reaching dangers of melting ice.

Listen to Short Wave on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

We love hearing from you! Reach the show by emailing shortwave@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Berly McCoy and edited and fact-checked by Rebecca Ramirez. The audio engineer was Patrick Murray.