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Climate disruptions, extreme weather events and global connections: the Arctic is crying out

By Matthew Druckenmiller, Research Scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado Boulder, Rick Thoman, Alaska Climatologist, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Twila Moon, Deputy Chief Scientist, National Snow Data Center and Ice (NSIDC), Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado Boulder

Depletion of sea ice cover near Greenland. In particular, the ancient ice (in white color) has almost disappeared and most of the remaining ice is new. NOAA
Depletion of sea ice cover near Greenland. In particular, the ancient ice (in white color) has almost disappeared and most of the remaining ice is new. NOAA

The North Pole has always been recognized as a remote place at the edge of the earth, cut off from common everyday experience. But as the Earth warms rapidly, what happens in this frozen region, where temperatures rise twice as fast as the rest of the Earth, increasingly affects life around the world.

On December 14, 2021, a team of 111 scientists from 12 countries published the 16th Annual Arctic Region Report - an annual update on the state of the Arctic system. Arctic scientists and the editors of this peer review look in this report at the interconnected physical, ecological and human components of the region.

Like an annual doctor's checkup, the report assesses the vital signs of the Arctic region—including air and surface temperatures, sea surface temperatures, sea ice, snow cover, the Greenland ice sheet, the depletion of the tundra, and the decline in photosynthesis rates by ocean algae—linking with Other indicators of health and emerging factors shed light on the trajectory of Arctic change.

As the report describes, rapid and pronounced human-caused warming continues to drive most of the changes, ultimately paving the way for disruptions affecting remote ecosystems and communities.

Continuous loss of ice

Arctic sea ice - a key vital sign and one of the most iconic indicators of global climate change - continues to shrink due to rising temperatures. the temperatures.

According to the report, in 2021 the lowest area of ​​summer sea ice was recorded. In fact, since measurements by satellites began in 1979 the years with the lowest ice cover are the last 15 years.

Another concern is that the mass of the ancient and thick perennial ice of the Arctic Ocean is also added to this decline. This loss reduces the Arctic's ability to cool the global climate. This data can also alter low-latitude weather systems to the extent that previously rare and impactful weather events, such as droughts, heat waves, and extreme winter storms, become more likely.

Similarly, the ongoing melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other continental ice is raising sea levels worldwide, exacerbating coastal severity and exposure to flooding, disruption of drinking and wastewater systems, and coastal erosion for additional communities around the globe.

First rain on a glacier in Greenland

The eight major Arctic rivers are sending more freshwater to the Arctic Ocean, reflecting an increase in the amount of water coming from the land to the Arctic region as a result of the decrease in precipitation. The peak of Greenland's glacier - over 3,000 meters above sea level - experienced during the summer of 2021 the first rains ever observed there. These developments point to a different and more changing Arctic region today. They also raise confidence in new modeling studies showing the potential for the Arctic to shift from a snow-dominated system to a rain-dominated system in the summer and fall until global temperatures rise to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F) above pre-industrial levels. times. The world has already warmed by 1.2 C (2.2 F).

Such a shift to more rain and less snow will further change the landscapes and fuel faster glacier retreat and ice loss. The thawing of permafrost not only affects ecosystems but also adds to climate warming by allowing previously frozen plant and animal remains to break down and release additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

This year's report highlights how retreating glaciers and glacier deterioration also pose growing threats to human life through local flash floods and landslides. It calls for coordinated international efforts to identify these risks. More rain in the Arctic will further increase these threats.

Human influence is increasing

Changes and disruptions observed in the Arctic affect daily life around the world, either directly or as a striking reminder of a variety of human-caused damage to climate and ecosystems.

In one of the studies cited in the report, it was reported about the spread of beavers northward into the arctic tundra to take advantage of favorable conditions for them that have recently been created there. This research is an example of how species around the world are on the move as habitats respond to climate change, and of the urgent need for new forms of collaborative monitoring to assess the scale of the resulting ecological shifts.

Another article dealt with marine trash from ships, which washes ashore in the Bering Sea, and is an immediate threat to food security in the region. The report reminds us that the threat of microplastics and macroplastics in our oceans is a prominent challenge of our time.

Another report deals with noise disrupting the behavior of marine mammals. This report is a call to preserve the integrity of natural soundscapes around the world. For example, an unrelated study recently found that noise caused by human activities and loss of biodiversity is degrading the soundscapes of spring songbirds in North America and Europe.

However, an article by members of the Indigenous Knowledge Network highlights how, despite ongoing climate threats to Arctic food systems, Alaska Native communities have dealt with early disruptions following the coronavirus pandemic in food security through their cultural values ​​that encourage sharing and a "community first" approach.

Their cooperation and adaptability offer an important skin to similarly struggling communities around the world, reminding everyone that the Arctic itself is a homeland for certain people; A place where large-scale disruptions are not new to over a million indigenous peoples, and where solutions have long been found in practices of reciprocity.The Arctic is connected to the rest of the world

The Arctic Report collects observations from across the North, and analyzes them in a polar view of our planet, so that the Earth is viewed with the North Pole in the center, and all latitudes extending outward to the rest of the world.

In this view, the Arctic is connected to human societies around the world through a myriad of exchanges - natural flow of air, ocean and pollutants, migration of animals and invasive species, as well as by the transport of people, pollution, goods and nature. The warming Arctic also allows greater maritime access, as loss of sea ice allows ships to move deeper into Arctic waters and for longer periods of time.

These insights highlight the importance of increasing international cooperation in conservation, risk reduction and scientific research.

The Arctic region has already gone through unprecedented rapid environmental and social changes, and the warmer and more accessible it is, its connection to the rest of the world is getting stronger.

For the article on THE CONVERSATION website

For the full report on the state of the North Pole for 2021

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