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Arctic has warmed thrice as much as the planet in the last 50 years: Report

Cold spells lasting more than 15 days have almost completely disappeared from the Arctic since 2000, according to a new report

The Arctic region has warmed thrice as much as the planet’s average in the last five decades (1971-2019), according to a new assessment report published by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP).

“This is higher than reported in previous AMAP assessments,” the report said. If greenhouse gas emissions were not controlled, the region could warm by anywhere between 3.3 and 10 degree Celsius above the 1985-2014 average by the end of the century, it added.

The chances of an entire Arctic summer without ice was 10 times greater if the average global temperature increased by 2°C as compared to a rise of 1.5°C, which is the ambitious goal set by countries under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

AMAP, established in 1991 under the eight-country Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, monitors and assesses the status of the Arctic region with respect to pollution and climate change, according to the agency’s website.

The report observes an increase in extreme high temperatures and decline in extreme cold temperatures. “Cold spells lasting more than 15 days have almost completely disappeared from the Arctic since 2000”, it added.

The Arctic region was under severe heat waves in the summer of 2020. In June, a town called Verkhoyansk in Russia’s Siberia region recorded the region’s highest temperature in the last 140 years. Verkhoyansk recorded a high of 38°C, around 18°C higher than the average temperature for that time of the year.

The United States’ National Snow and Ice Data Center says the Arctic region is currently warming at twice the rate compared to the rest of the planet due to a feedback mechanism known as the ‘Arctic amplification’. 

Scientists have known about this process at least since 2014. Melting ice, in this process, hastens the process of warming by exposing areas not good at reflecting back heat into the atmosphere.

This creates a feedback loop between melting ice and rising temperatures, amplifying the impact of warming. A major chunk of this warming is the result of heat getting trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere due to increasing emissions of greenhouse gases because of human activities.

The AMAP report also highlighted the increase in extreme events in the region such as increase in the frequency and / or intensity of rapid sea ice loss events, melting of the Greenland ice sheet, heavy rainfall, flooding, coastal erosion and wildfires.

Other recent studies have shown that the number of storms and lightning strikes, once rare in the region, are also on the rise due to the warming. They are projected to further rise with the rise in the region’s temperatures.

A research paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, lightning strikes might increase by 112 per cent over permafrost-covered areas of the Arctic by the end of the century. This might be accompanied by an increase in lightning-induced fires and wild fires as well.

The AMAP report warned:                                                                           

The rapidly changing cryosphere (all snow and ice on Earth, including the two polar regions and the glaciers and ice sheets around the world) is affecting ecosystems throughout the Arctic, changing the productivity, seasonality, distribution and interactions of species in terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems.

“Unique ecosystems, such as those associated with multi-year sea ice or millennia-old ice shelves, are at risk and some are vanishing,” it added.

The indigenous communities of the Arctic are getting affected by all these rapid and sometimes irreversible changes to their environment. Their safety, health, well-being and livelihoods are at risk from the extreme weather and the changes in eco-systems.

The situation is being exacerbated by other human interventions in the region like commercial fisheries, aquaculture, and cruise tourism, according to the AMAP report.

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