Climate Change

Less ice, more rain... Why a new Arctic climate can be a global watershed

Global warming has dramatically changed the region’s climate, adding a rainy season almost equal to India’s and up to 10 months without snow

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Wednesday 16 September 2020

Most of us are experiencing a new climate. There are regions of our planet that have continued to be pristine for millions of years, like  Antarctica and the Arctic. These regions are the barometer to gauge the severity of human-induced climate change.

If the climate in these regions changes, the planet would be up for a completely different climate, with disruptive consequences.

Both polar regions are under intense observation and have been showing signs of climate change impacts.

The Arctic particularly showed late signs of change due to the global warming caused by human-emitted greenhouse gases that ultimately lead to change in climate. But in recent years, this process has gathered speed.  

The current generation became the first in human memory to witness exposed earth in this snow-covered part of the planet. In all probability, we will also witness a completely new climate in the Arctic. By the end of this century, the Arctic would be ice-free for up to 10 months.

In fact, the northern polar region might have already entered into a ‘new Arctic climate’ phase. The ‘new’ climate in the snow-capped pole is warmer, rainier and without its pivotal snow that plays a key role in its overall climate.

“The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago,” Laura Landrum, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the United States, said.

Landrum, along with Marika M Holland, fellow scientist with NCAR, has just confirmed this dawn of a new climate for the Arctic. “The Arctic has now warmed so significantly that its year-to-year variability is moving outside the bounds of any past fluctuations, signaling the transition to a ‘new Arctic’ climate regime,” their new study titled Extremes become routine in an emerging New Arctic, has said.

Their study has rather found out rapid changes in the Arctic region. It means weather events like the highest temperature or least snow in winter that the region has been reporting, are going to be the new normal.

“The rate of change is remarkable,” Landrum said. “It is a period of such rapid change that observations of past weather patterns no longer show what you can expect next year,” she added.

Landrum and Holland scavenged years of Arctic climate data, including observations documented over decades. They also simulated various scenarios using sophisticated computers. This helped them to draw what they call the ‘climate boundaries of old Arctic’.

Or in common parlance, the usual climate of the region with all short-term variability. This helped the scientists to note changes in climate beyond this natural boundary. For the scientists, the new changes beyond the boundary of the old Arctic means the human-induced warming that causes change in climate.

What have they found to claim that a new climate might have set in? First, Arctic Sea ice has melted drastically. It is so much that currently an unusually colder winter in the region doesn’t get the ice that it used to get in the summer months of the mid-20th century.

This means an unrecognisable change in the characteristics of seasons in the Arctic.  

“The changes in Arctic climate are so profound that the average extent of sea ice in September, when it reaches its annual minimum, has dropped by 31 per cent since the first decade of the satellite era (1979-88),” the study found.

Second, by the middle of the 21st century, the air temperature in the winters will increase to such a level that it would mean a distinct new climate for this region. This would trigger changes in other seasons, like rain would be more pronounced in more months than now. And instead of snow, it would be plain water that would pour down.

Third, by using various internationally working models, they found that melting of sea ice had been rapid and consistent. All their models confirmed that “a new climate for sea ice had emerged in the late 20th and early 21st centuries”.  

Fourth, giving an idea of how the region would look like in a new climate, they say that by the end of this century, the Arctic would be ice-free for three to 10 months in a year. By mid-century, there would be an increase of 20-60 days of rainy days; this would increase to 60-90 days by the end of the century. Many regions of the Arctic would experience rain in any month.  

“The Arctic is likely to experience extremes in sea ice, temperature and precipitation that are far outside anything that we’ve experienced before,” Landrum said. “We need to change our definition of what Arctic climate is.”

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