Arctic warming far faster than thought
The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, speeding the melting of polar ice and causing global sea levels to rise higher and more rapidly than previously predicted. That’s the worrying conclusion of a landmark new study by over 90 leading climate scientists, who warn that the rapid thaw will have “major consequences for ecosystems and society.” The study for the intergovernmental Arctic Council notes that from 2011 to 2015 temperatures in the region increased at a faster rate than at any time since records began around 1900. It projects the Arctic Ocean will be nearly free of summer sea ice by 2030 and cautions that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on current trends, global sea levels will rise at least 29 inches by 2100— almost double the minimum estimate by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Experts say a feedback loop is accelerating warming. Sunlight is reflected by ice and snow, but as the polar ice melts, more heat from the sun’s rays is absorbed by newly exposed areas of the Arctic Ocean, which in turn becomes warmer and melts more ice. Rising sea temperatures could alter the jet stream, triggering extreme weather changes across North America, Europe, and Asia.
“The Arctic is unraveling,” conservationist Rafe Pomerance tells Nature.com. “The fate of [the region] has to be moved out of the world of scientific observation and into the world of government policy.” ■