The Artic Ocean  (©Goinyk – stock.adobe.com)

By Federico Citterich

Mar 1 2024

As part of a study on future climate change forecasts, researchers from University College London find that increased warming in the Arctic will be responsible for breaching the Paris Agreement’s 2°C threshold eight years earlier than if the area was warming at the average global rate.

As climate change continues to impact our everyday lives, Arctic regions are silently being devastated as well. The Arctic sea ice extent is shrinking by 13% per decade, and it is becoming significantly thinner. Consequently, Arctic sea levels are rising worryingly, now accounting for 35% of the global increase in ocean levels. This negatively affects Arctic wildlife, directly threatening ice-dependent species but indirectly menacing ice-independent organisms as well.

“And this is happening because the Arctic is warming almost four times faster than the rest of the world”, said Maurizio Azzaro, Head of the Institute of Polar Sciences in the section of Messina (Italy). The phenomenon, known as Arctic Amplification, is now well-recorded and acknowledged amongst the scientific community. 

“Part of the reason why Arctic Amplification is happening is that the Arctic is very white, as it contains great amounts of ice and snow. As climate change melts away that white expanse, a darker surface is produced and exposed, and darker surfaces absorb more sunlight”, explained Azzaro. “This is known as the ice-albedo feedback”.

“Other positive feedbacks play a significant role in promoting Arctic Amplification as well, including the cloud feedback and the ocean feedback”, added Azzaro.

Due to Arctic Amplification, the warming-induced changes that affect the rest of the world are happening three to four times faster in Arctic regions. Expressing deep concern, he said, “The Arctic as we know it is disappearing very quickly”.

The impact of Arctic Amplification on global temperature

However, the effects of Arctic Amplification may not be restricted to Arctic regions. According to a new study carried out by researchers from University College London, Arctic Amplification will be responsible for the breaching of the Paris Agreement’s 2°C threshold eight years earlier than if the area was warming at the average global rate.

The Paris Agreement is a 2015 international treaty on climate change that aims at keeping the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while also pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“For many people, the Paris Agreement temperature thresholds are the primary means of understanding and quantifying climate change”, said Alistair Duffey, a PhD candidate at University College London’s Earth Sciences Department and lead author of the study. “Our research aims at translating climate change in the Arctic in more familiar terms for people”.

To carry out the study, the researchers compared future climate change projections with and without Arctic Amplification. “This enables us to quantify the direct impact of Arctic Amplification”, explained Duffey.

According to the scientists, the extra warming in the Arctic translates to a five- and eight-year difference when the models reach the 1.5°C and 2°C thresholds, respectively. “According to the models, Arctic Amplification pulls the time the world would breach the Paris Agreement thresholds forward”, highlighted Duffey.

Less ice, altered ocean circulation, and extreme weather

Arctic Amplification has other important effects as well. “As we warm the Arctic, we melt significant portions of the permanently frozen ground that extends in the northern hemisphere of the world, known as permafrost”, said Duffey. “This can in turn increase methane and carbon dioxide emissions, adding greenhouse gases to the global warming engine”.

“The melting of permafrost can also lead to the release of dormant ancient viruses and bacteria, as well as promoting landslides and other geological accidents”, explained Azzaro. “The consequences for life and the environment can be catastrophic”.

Studies also suggest that the addition of large quantities of fresh water from the melting of glaciers can disrupt ocean circulation, hence directly affecting marine organisms.

“Additionally, there is evidence that the extra warming in the Arctic and its associated loss of sea ice is directly linked to extreme weather in the northern hemisphere of the Earth”, Azzaro added.

Prospects

“Arctic warming adds substantial uncertainty to climate forecasts”, said Duffey. “This is because there is some variability in quantifications of Arctic Amplification within the scientific community, which hence affects different future climate predictions”.

“More studies are needed to further understand Arctic Amplification and all its causes. This might improve our future climatic models”, he added.

“We will certainly have to think more about integrating data from different disciplines”, Azzaro concluded. “That of global warming is now an ever-evolving landscape in which long-term, natural variations collide and coevolve with man-driven changes”. – Vatican News