It’s alarmingly warm in the Arctic this year. I suppose Donald Trump and his friends think that’s nice, the polar bears and caribou can get in some sunbathing, but everyone else realizes it could mean disaster a lot sooner than expected.
The Arctic is experiencing extraordinarily hot sea surface and air temperatures, which are stopping ice forming and could lead to record lows of sea ice at the north pole next year, according to scientists.
Danish and US researchers monitoring satellites and Arctic weather stations are surprised and alarmed by air temperatures peaking at what they say is an unheard-of 20C higher than normal for the time of year. In addition, sea temperatures averaging nearly 4C higher than usual in October and November.
Sea ice, which forms and melts each year, has declined more than 30% in the past 25 years. This week it has been at the lowest extent ever recorded for late November. According to the US government’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre, (NSIDC), around 2m square kilometres less ice has formed since September than average. The level is far below the same period in 2012, when sea ice went on to record its lowest ever annual level.
And it’s not just some random thing; it’s a loop.
Rasmus Tonboe, a sea ice remote sensing expert at the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen, said: “Sea surface temperatures in the Kara and Barents seas are much warmer than usual. That makes it very difficult for sea ice to freeze.
“When we have large areas of open water, it also raises air temperatures, and it has been up to 10/15C warmer. Six months ago the sea ice was breaking up unusually early. This made more open water and allowed the sunlight to be absorbed, which is why the Arctic is warmer this year,” he said.
“What we are seeing is both surprising and alarming. This is faster than the models. It is alarming because it has consequences.”
And the things it’s doing will make it all worse next year, and that will have consequences. It could trigger tipping points.
Arctic scientists have warned that the increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering 19 “tipping points” in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe.
The Arctic Resilience Report found that the effects of Arctic warming could be felt as far away as the Indian Ocean, in a stark warning that changes in the region could cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level.
Temperatures in the Arctic are currently about 20C above what would be expected for the time of year, which scientists describe as “off the charts”. Sea ice is at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year.
“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”
It’s pretty terrifying.
In the Arctic, the tipping points identified in the new report, published on Friday, include: growth in vegetation on tundra, which replaces reflective snow and ice with darker vegetation, thus absorbing more heat; higher releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the tundra as it warms; shifts in snow distribution that warm the ocean, resulting in altered climate patterns as far away as Asia, where the monsoon could be effected; and the collapse of some key Arctic fisheries, with knock-on effects on ocean ecosystems around the globe.
The globe with seven billion people who don’t know how to deal with a hotting up planet.
Aides to the US president-elect, Donald Trump, this week unveiled plans to remove the budget for climate change science currently used by Nasa and other US federal agencies for projects such as examining Arctic changes, and to spend it instead on space exploration.
“That would be a huge mistake,” said Carson, noting that much more research needs to be done on polar tipping points before we can understand the true dangers, let alone hope to tackle them. “It would be like ripping out the aeroplane’s cockpit instruments while you are in mid-flight.”
He added: “These are very serious problems, very serious changes are happening, but they are still poorly understood. We need more research to understand them. A lot of the major science is done by the US.”
Which is only fair since the US also does a lot of the major carbon emitting. But now that the ignoramus in chief is planning to axe a lot of that major science…I guess we’ll just watch in silence while it all goes to hell.
Scientists have speculated for some years that so-called feedback mechanisms – by which the warming of one area or type of landscape has knock-on effects for whole ecosystems – could suddenly take hold and change the dynamics of Arctic ice melting from a relatively slow to a fast-moving phenomenon with unpredictable and potentially irreversible consequences for global warming. For instance, when sea ice shrinks it leaves areas of dark ocean that absorb more heat than the reflective ice, which in turn causes further shrinkage, and so on in a spiral.
We’re breaking it.