Bad news: Study reveals the Arctic is warming much faster than previously thought

·Senior Editor
·3 min read

The Arctic is warming much faster than previously thought, according to a new study, which highlighted the challenges ahead for limiting climate change and keeping global temperatures in check.

While previous scientific estimates concluded that the Arctic was warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, the new study undertaken by researchers with the Finnish Meteorological Institute and published Thursday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment claims that the Arctic increase over the last 43 has been 3.8 times faster than the global average.

“In recent decades, the warming in the Arctic has been much faster than in the rest of the world, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification. Numerous studies report that the Arctic is warming either twice, more than twice, or even three times as fast as the globe on average,” the study states. “Here we show, by using several observational datasets which cover the Arctic region, that during the last 43 years the Arctic has been warming nearly four times faster than the globe, which is a higher ratio than generally reported in literature.”

Mika Rantanen, one of the study’s authors, noted that the rate of warming was not uniform throughout the Arctic Circle, and that portions of the Barents Sea, which borders Russia, have been warming at up to seven times the global average.

Calling prior scientific assessments of the rate of warming in the Arctic “a clear underestimation of the situation,” the new study comes at a time when Greenland’s ice sheet continues to melt with unprecedented speed and wildfires have burned more than 3 million acres in Alaska this summer.

A bearded seal
A bearded seal near the Norwegian Svalbard Islands in the Arctic Ocean. (Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

As global temperatures continue to climb thanks to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels, the threat to the Arctic and Antarctic polar ice caps worsens. That melting is poised to continue to cause sea levels to rise dramatically in the coming decades, and could also trigger what scientists refer to as “feedback loops,” which will further speed the rate of global warming.

Two of those loops that pertain to the Arctic include the “albedo effect,” which refers to white sea ice reflecting the sun’s radiation back into space. The loss of that ice means that the Earth’s darker surface and waters absorb that radiation, further warming the planet. In fact, the albedo effect is, in part, behind the increased rate of warming measured in the study.

A second feedback loop occurs with the melting of the Arctic permafrost, which then releases previously frozen carbon and methane stores that further increase temperatures while also potentially unleashing dormant viruses and bacteria.

Climate scientists have long warned that unless dramatic action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will continue, polar ice caps will melt, oceans and temperatures will rise significantly and life as we know it will be put at risk.

On Friday, the House of Representatives is poised to pass the first major climate change legislation in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Democrats already passed the bill along party lines in the 50-50 Senate, and the measure is expected to face uniform GOP opposition in the House as well.