It’s no secret that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, but new research indicates that the problem may have been severely underestimated. According to a new study, the Arctic has actually been warming at least four times faster compared to the global average – as much as twice faster than some previous estimates.
The new research was published today in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment.
It’s well established that the Arctic is one of the regions of the world that’s been most acutely impacted by climate change, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification or polar amplification.
One of the main drivers of this is the feedback associated with melting sea ice and snow cover. As the Arctic warms, it becomes less covered with snow and ice, thereby becoming darker and less reflective, resulting in more solar energy being absorbed. The Arctic then becomes warmer and the problem continues in a vicious circle.
It was typically held that the Arctic was warming twice, perhaps three times, faster than the rest of the planet due to polar amplification. However, new research by the Finnish Meteorological Institute shows this is likely to be a huge under-exaggeration.
Their team found that a large chunk of the Arctic Ocean warmed at a rate of 0.75°C (1.35°F) per decade between 1979 and 2021, at least four times faster than the global average.
Elsewhere, the temperature rise was even more severe. In the Eurasian sector of the Arctic Ocean, near the Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya archipelagos above Norway and Russia, warming was found to be as high as 1.25°C (2.25°F) per decade – that’s seven times faster than the global average.
“While the magnitude of Arctic amplification is dependent to some degree on how the Arctic region is defined, and by the period of time used in the calculation, the climate models were found to underestimate Arctic amplification almost independent of the definition”, Mika Rantanen, lead study author and a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, said in a statement seen by IFLScience.
The researchers explained that some Arctic amplification is likely to be linked to natural long-term variations in climate, but added that it's clearly inseparable from climate change directly caused by human activity.
Scientists have previously warned that temperatures have increased around the North Pole so rapidly that we should now consider that the Arctic has been shifted into a new climate state. The so-called “new Arctic” is an environment with notably different sea ice volume, temperatures, rainy seasons, and snowfall compared to the “old Arctic".
With further warming, we should expect to see huge changes to the region’s biodiversity and natural environment. However, we can also expect to see the plight of the polar regions impact other parts of the world in the form of rising sea levels and the release of methane from thawing permafrost. After all, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.