Wednesday May 24, 2017

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Global warming

Trickle down

Fundamental changes in the Arctic climate will have far reaching impacts, geographically and temporally
This is your Arctic on CO2 (Photo: Cairn Energy)

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Key findings of the 2017 Swipa assessment
1. The Arctic’s climate is shifting to a new state
2. Climate change in the Arctic has continued at a rapid pace
3. Changes will continue through at least mid-century, due to warming already locked into the climate system
4. Substantial cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions now can stabilize impacts after mid-century
5. Adaptation policies can reduce vulnerabilities
6. Effective mitigation and adaptation policies require a solid understanding of Arctic climate change
- Source: Amap

Whether it is rising sea level, changed weather patterns over the American Mid-West or improved economic opportunity for residents of the region, a warmer Arctic climate is going to have profound impacts for the foreseeable future, according to the findings of an Arctic Council supported report, published in advance of the organisation’s biennial meeting next month.

“Changes are expected to be greatest in the Arctic, with ripple effects throughout the world,” according to the assessment, compiled by a group of 90 experts for the Arctic Council’s Amap group, which concerns itself with monitoring the effects of global warming on the region.

In the latest version of its Swipa (short for snow, water, ice and permafrost in the Arctic) assessment, the group reiterated the results of previous studies that have found that the loss of land and sea ice in the Arctic, along with changes in snow cover, can be tied to altered Northern Hemisphere storm tracks, floods and winter weather patterns.

There is “even evidence finding that Arctic changes influence the onset and rainfall amounts of Southeast Asian monsoons,” the report states.

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Other damaging effects of a changed Arctic climate outside the region, the assessment finds, are a greater risk of wildfires, avalanches, floods and altered animal-migration patterns.

For communities in the Arctic istelf, the threats include altered habitats for species that serve as vital sources of food and income, such as polar bear, whale, walrus and some types of seal. There is also a direct risk to humans in the form of less stable sea ice. Most costly in economic terms will be the damage that can be expected to be done to infrastructure as permafrost thaws, transforming solid foundations into heaved and waterlogged soil.

The assessment also reiterates that temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the global average, and that greenhouse gasses produced by human activity is the culprit. Such changes are increasing at an ever faster pace, and, according to a new estimate, are likely to lead to the emergence of ice-free* summers in the Arctic Ocean by 2040, moving the previous prediction of such an event forward by two decades.

“Since the first Swipa report in 2011,” the assessment states, “the additional years of data show continued or accelerating warming trends in air temperatures, growing reductions in sea ice and snow cover, shrinking of glaciers and ice sheets, freshening and warming of the Arctic Ocean, thawing of permafrost, and widespread ecological changes.”

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Sebastian Mernild, the head of the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center, a Norwegian research outfit, and one of the contributors to the assessment, told Danish media that the galloping pace of change suggested that efforts to limit greenhouse gasses had failed.

“Things look worse than we had imagined,” he said.

Should the report’s projections pan out, the situation is likely to get worse yet. This is due to the fact that the greenhouses gases already released into the atmosphere will continue to affect the climate until at least mid-century.

“Because the climate system takes time to fully respond to changes in greenhouse-gas emissions, some additional climate change is inevitable.”

While this bodes ill for the Arctic and elsewhere, the assessment suggests that deep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions now could stave off even more drastic changes in the second half of this century.

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Such rays of hope, according to Martin Sommerkorn, an Arctic-climate specialist with the WWF, were worth clinging to.

The assessment, Mr Sommerkorn wrote in a commentary to the assessment submitted to The Arctic Journal, “says that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and stabilising concentrations under a scenario roughly consistent with the Paris Agreement could stabilise the Arctic environment after mid-century, although it would be stabilised as a warmer, wetter, less icy place.”

*Despite its name, an ‘ice-free’ summer is understood to mean a situation in which less than 15% of the surface is covered by ice.