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Arctic Sea Ice Loss: World Leaders Must Arrest Arctic Climate Change Impacts!

Reacting to news of the Arctic summer sea ice minimum reaching its second lowest extent in the 42-year satellite record on September 15, and to recent reports of a polar heatwave, Greenland ice sheet’s loss of million tonnes of ice per day, the collapse of the Spalte glacier and Milne Ice Shelf, and the Arctic’s shift to a new climate, the Clean Arctic Alliance today called on world leaders to take urgent action to slow Arctic warming.

Arctic Sea Ice Loss: World Leaders Must Arrest Arctic Climate Change Impacts!
24 September 2020 - 12:06


“With temperatures reaching 38° Celsius north of the Arctic Circle in June, and Arctic sea ice melting faster than most climate models predicted, the Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to curb warming of the Arctic region, by accelerating national and regional policies and practices that will fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement, especially that of limiting the increase to 1.5o Celsius – requiring a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance. “The extreme summer of 2020 is demonstrating, with global mean temperatures already showing an increase of 1.1° Celsius, that unless urgent and collective action is taken, a 2° Celsius increase will prove detrimental to human health and wellbeing, our economies and the environment”

The Clean Arctic Alliance, which comprises 20 international non-profit organisations, is campaigning for a robust and effective ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil by shipping in the Arctic, while advocating for shipping to decrease its climate impact, particularly through reductions in black carbon emissions.

This summer Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent ever throughout July with substantial openings of the sea ice north of Alaska and within the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, while the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s Arctic coastline opened in July for the first time ever. The melting slowed somewhat during early August, but picked up again in September to reach the annual sea ice minimum in mid-September, and it is the second lowest summer sea ice extent since the records began, over 40 years ago. Scientists are now predicting summers with no sea ice by 2035 .

Arctic sea ice is important to minimising risks of reaching global warming tipping points and thresholds not just in the Arctic, but in the global climate system. Arctic summer sea ice is expected to be lost at around 1.7° Celsius global warming; by 1.5° Celsius – which is expected to be reached between 2030 and 2052 – there is likely to already be several days or weeks without ice and by 2° Celsius the Arctic would be ice free for several months every year. While this might be hailed as a boon for shipping in the Arctic, it is not good news for the global climate system, as it drives further warming through feedback loops. Ice loss from the Arctic ice cap drives the freshening of the oceans (decreased salinity due to fresh water from glaciers) and global sea level rise, while the melting Arctic permafrost releases climate warming gases including methane, that drive further climate changes. In addition, recent research suggests that loss of Arctic sea ice will lead to “projected Increases in extreme Arctic ocean surface waves” [5]. Loss of Arctic sea ice will have impacts outside the Arctic – affecting mid-latitude weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) observed that this has already happened with 1° Celsius of warming.

“The Earth has already undergone nearly 1° Celsius of warming since the late 1800s, and the Arctic is warming much faster – between 2 to 3° Celsius over the same period. Temperatures over the Barents Sea and around the Svalbard archipelago have increased by 1.5° Celsius per decade over the past 40 years. When the global temperature has increased by 1.7°Celsius, we will be on track for an ice-free Arctic for several months of the year”, continued Prior. “The loss of Arctic sea ice is not only catastrophic for Arctic communities, the ecosystems they depend upon and ice-dependent wildlife, it has enormous ramifications for the entire planet. It will potentially upset weather patterns further south, drive the loss of snow and glaciers from mid-latitude mountain regions and also have an impact on fisheries.

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