New study shows the Arctic has entered an ‘unprecedented state’ that threatens the entire planet

The study is a massive conglomeration of nearly 50 years of research.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

We already know that global warming is transforming the Arctic, but a new study highlighting the intensity and speed of the changes says it’s worse than many scientists expected.

The newly released paper, “Key Indicators of Arctic Climate Change: 1971-2017,” is a work of scientists at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland in Copenhagen (GUES). Published in a special issue on Arctic climate change by the journal Environmental Research letters, it is the first of its kind to combine observations of physical climate indicators with biological impacts. Previous to this study many of these indicators or measures of climate change were treated in isolation from one another.

Using 47 years worth of data, the 20 researchers authoring the project conclude that, “The Arctic system is trending away from its 20th century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic.”

“Because the Arctic atmosphere is warming faster than the rest of the world, weather patterns across Europe, North America and Asia are becoming more persistent, leading to extreme weather conditions. Another example is the disruption of the ocean circulation that can further destabilize climate: for example, cooling across northwestern Europe and strengthening of storms,” says Jason Box of the GUES, lead author of the study.

Among the most detrimental findings are the extreme rise in temperatures. The Arctic has gotten warmer by 3.1 C in the cold season (October to May), leading to greener and wetter climates, less snow cover, and less land and sea ice.

As the group’s video summary points out, “associated with Arctic warming is an intensification of the hydrologic cycle, with increases in humidity, cloud covers, more rainfall and snowfall, increases in Arctic river discharge, increase snowline altitude, and accelerating loss of land ice.”

The study specifically examined ecosystem response to physical climate changes and documents numerous biophysical disruptions that have cascading effects. This means that the future Arctic won’t look like the Arctic we now know.

“The Arctic is really going to change its face. In another generation, we’re going to be even more different than we are now. You can expect changes to pick up and accelerate,” said William Colgan, a senior researcher at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, and one of the report’s authors.

Researches hope that their findings “provide a foundation for a more integrated understanding of the Arctic and its role in the dynamics of the Earth’s biogeophysical systems.”


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