Energy & Environment

Arctic warming up to four times as fast as global average: study

The Arctic is warming at a more rapid pace than previously thought — and four times faster than the world at large, according to research published Thursday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. 

Between 1979 and 2021, the Arctic warmed about four times as fast as the global average, significantly more than previous estimates of two or three times as fast, researchers found.

Within the region itself there are also numerous variations in the pace of the warming — the northern Russian island chain of Novaya Zemlya is warming at seven times the global average, according to researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute. 

Researchers calculated the average of four sets of satellite data during the four decades covered by the research, and found that while global average temperatures saw an increase of about 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade, the Arctic saw warming of over 0.75 degrees. 

The Arctic Circle is at particular risk for warming simply because so much of it is ocean, compared to other regions. As a result, when its sea ice melts, the increased portion of water contributes to further warming because it absorbs the sun’s heat rather than reflecting it. 

The impacts of this warming go far beyond the Arctic region, contributing to sea-level rise and the ocean’s surface temperatures, which can tie into extreme weather events like hurricanes. The World Wildlife Fund describes the region as “the world’s refrigerator,” noting that when the Arctic reflects less heat, it can lead to both an increase in extreme heat and more cold snaps as it destabilizes the polar jet stream that blows around the Arctic Circle. 

“With new evidence showing that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet, scientific data keeps showing that the situation is more urgent than we had previously thought,” Robert Orttung, a research professor of international affairs at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, who was not involved in the research, said in a statement.  

“Congress’s recent action is a step in the right direction, but more is needed. The recent spate of floods, fires, and droughts shows that we need better ways to respond to the immediate crises and a concerted effort to address the root causes,” Orttung added. 

Tags Arctic circle Arctic Ocean Climate change
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