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What is causing Arctic warming?

  • Published
    18th Aug, 2022
Context

A new study shows that the Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the rest of the world over the past 43 years. This means the Arctic is on average around 3 degree warmer than it was in 1980.

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Key highlights about Arctic warming:

  • The Arctic is heating four times faster than the rest of the planet.
  • The warming is more concentrated in the Eurasian part of the Arctic, where the Barents Sea north of Russia and Norway is warming at an alarming rate — seven times faster than the global average. 
  • The Arctic is more sensitive to global warming than previously thought.

Why the Arctic is heating up more quickly?

  • Changes in the amount of air pollution coming from Europe and natural multi-decade climate variations likely play a role.
  • But human-caused global warming is the underlying reason that the Arctic, and the planet as a whole, are heating up.
  • Loss of sea ice is one of the clearest drivers of Arctic warming.
  • The Arctic Circle is mostly ocean, which used to be frozen for most or all of the year.
  • But permanent sea ice is steadily shrinking, and seasonal ice is melting earlier in the year and re-forming later.
  • That means more open water. But while ice is bright and reflects heat from the sun, water is darker and absorbs it.
  • That heat helps melt more ice, which means more water to trap more heat – the loop feeds on itself, accelerating warming in the Arctic.
  • This feedback loop is largely responsible for what is known as Arctic amplification.

Arctic amplification:

  • The phenomenon, called Arctic amplification, is caused by the heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels.
  • The pace of the temperature increase around the North Pole in recent decades was four times higher than the rest of the planet.

Impact:

  • Rapid Arctic warming affects people living far from the Arctic circle.
    • For example, there is evidence that weather patterns are shifting across the U.S. and Europe as sea ice melts, and many marine species migrate between the tropics and the Arctic each year.
  • The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an alarming rate, and the rate of accumulation of sea ice has been remarkably low since 2000, marked by young and thinner ice replacing the old and thicker ice sheets.
    • Greenlandic ice sheet holds the second largest amount of ice, after Antarctica, and therefore it is crucial for maintaining the sea level.
    • In 2019, this was the single biggest cause for the rise in the sea level, about 1.5 metres.
    • If the sheet melts completely, the sea level would rise by seven metres, capable of subsuming island countries and major coastal cities.
  • The warming is also increasing the incidence of rainfall which is affecting the availability and accessibility of lichens to the reindeer.
  • The Arctic amplification is causing widespread starvation and death among the Arctic fauna.

What is the impact on India?

  • In recent years, scientists have pondered over the impact the changing Arctic can have on the monsoons in the subcontinent.
    • The link between the two is growing in importance due to the extreme weather events the country faces, and the heavy reliance on rainfall for water and food security.
  • In 2014, India deployed IndARC, India’s first moored-underwater observatory in the Kongsfjorden fjord, Svalbard, to monitor the impact of the changes in the Arctic Ocean on the tropical processes such as the monsoons. 
  • According to the World Meteorological Organization’s report, ‘State of Global Climate in 2021’, sea level along the Indian coast is rising faster than the global average rate.
    • One of the primary reasons for this rise is the melting of sea ice in the Polar Regions, especially the Arctic. The Arctic amplification furthers the idea that “what happens in the Arctic does not remain in the Arctic” and can substantially affect tropical processes far south. 
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