(ORDO NEWS) — New data reveal unusually high rates of global warming in the Arctic, seven times the global average.
The warming is taking place in the northern Barents Sea, a region where rapidly rising temperatures are expected to be causing more extreme weather in North America, Europe and Asia. The researchers said warming in the region is an “early warning” of what could happen in the rest of the Arctic.
New data show that the average annual temperature in this region is increasing during the year by 2.7C per decade, with a particularly strong increase in the autumn months – up to 4C per decade. This makes the northern part of the Barents Sea and its islands the fastest growing place on Earth.
Far above average temperatures have been recorded in the Arctic in recent years, and experienced observers are calling the situation “crazy”, “strange” and “just shocking”. Some climatologists warn that unprecedented events could signal faster and more dramatic climate disruption.
It was already known that the Arctic is warming three times faster than the global average as a result of the climate crisis, but a new study shows that the situation is even more extreme in places.
Sea ice reflects sunlight well, but it melts. This allows the darker ocean to absorb more energy. The loss of sea ice also means that it no longer limits the ability of warmer sea waters to warm Arctic air. The more ice is lost, the more heat builds up, forming a feedback loop.
“We expected to see strong warming, but not on the scale that we found,” said Ketil Isaksen, a senior scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute who led the work. “We were all surprised. From what we know from every other observation point on the globe, this is the highest rate of warming we have seen so far.”
“The broader implication is that the feedback from melting sea ice is even higher than previously shown,” he said.
“This is an early warning of what will happen in the rest of the Arctic if this melting continues, and what is likely to happen in the coming decades.” In April, scientists around the world said that immediate and deep cuts in carbon and other greenhouse gases were needed to combat the climate emergency.
“This study shows that even the best models underestimated the rate of warming in the Barents Sea,” said Dr Ruth Mottram, a climatologist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, who is not part of the team.
“We seem to be seeing it transition into a new regime as it becomes less like the Arctic and more like the North Atlantic. It’s really on the brink right now and it seems unlikely that sea ice will persist in the region for much longer.”
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is based on data from automatic weather stations on the islands of Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. Until now, these data have not gone through a standard quality control process and have not been made public.
As a result, a high-quality set of surface air temperature measurements from 1981 to 2020 was obtained. The researchers concluded: “Regional warming rates in the northern part of the Barents Sea are exceptional and are in line with average Arctic warming rates of 2-2.5 times and average global warming rates of 5-7 times.”
There was a very strong correlation over time between air temperature, sea ice loss, and ocean temperature. Isaksen said that the rapid rise in temperature will have a very big impact on ecosystems: “For example, here in Oslo, the temperature rises by 0.4C per decade, and people really feel the disappearance of snow in winter. But what happens in the High North does not no value.”
Isaksen said the new information about the rate of heating in the area will help other scientists’ research on how changes in the Arctic are affecting extreme weather in densely populated areas at lower latitudes. There is evidence that rapid heating alters the jet stream winds that circle the pole and affect extreme weather.
“The loss of sea ice and warming in the Barents Sea, in particular, has been highlighted in previous work as being of particular importance for changes in winter atmospheric circulation that are associated with extreme winter weather events,” said Professor Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, USA.
“If this mechanism is valid, and there is some debate about it, then this is another way that climate change can lead to an increase in certain types of extreme weather events [and which] does not capture well in existing models.”
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