Scientists are warning about a crucial part of the Earth's ecosystem as a new finding in the Arctic prompts renewed alarm.
The Arctic has warmed three times more quickly than the planet as a whole and faster than previously thought, a report released overnight warns.
Arctic sea ice looks set to be an early victim of rising temperatures, with each fraction of a degree making a big difference: the chance of it disappearing entirely in summer is 10 times greater if Earth warms by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels compared to 1.5C, the goal set by the 2015 Paris Accord.
The finding comes from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) in a report timed to coincide with a ministerial meeting this week of the Arctic Council in Reykjavik, which gathers countries bordering the region.
“The Arctic is a real hotspot for climate warming,” Jason Box, a glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, said.
In less than half a century, from 1971 to 2019, the Arctic’s average annual temperature rose by 3.1C, compared to 1C for the planet as a whole.
That’s more than previously suspected.
'Mind-boggling' May temperatures recorded in Arctic
As world leaders push for more ambitious global action on reducing climate warming emissions, current temperatures in the Arctic suggest the trend is showing no signs of slowing down.
"Unprecedented heat in the Arctic again today. Even hotter than yesterday," Scottish meteorologist Duncan tweeted on Friday.
"This part of the world is crazy. Northerly winds deliver cold and sub freezing while southerly winds can push exceptional heat (despite being in the Arctic). The range of extremes is enormous," he explained.
"Arctic heat flashes like this are not new. The fact that we continually push the boundaries of what is possible and keep breaking records in the Arctic is all part of climate change."
On Wednesday, it reached 30.5C in the Arctic while temperatures rose above 31C on Thursday. That was warmer than pretty much all of Europe, Mr Duncan said.
"Truly exceptional for any time of the year but mind-boggling for May."
For the Arctic region as whole, 2020 was the second warmest year on record, according to a recent report by the European Union.
Consequences for the Arctic ecosystem
According to researchers, a turning point came in 2004 when the temperature in the Arctic surged for largely unexplained reason.
Since then, warming has continued at a rate 30 per cent higher than in previous decades.
The region is now experiencing "more and longer lasting winter warm events", Prof Box told AFP.
According to forecasts in the latest report, by the end of the century average temperatures in the Arctic are expected to rise 3.3 to 10 degrees above the average for the period of 1985 to 2014.
The final figure depends on how rapidly humanity draws down greenhouse gas emissions.
Warming has immediate consequences for the Arctic ecosystem, including changes in habitat, food habits and interactions between animals — including the iconic polar bear — and the migration of some species.
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