The Arctic is warming at breakneck speed compared to the rest of the Earth. And new analyzes show that the region is warming even faster than scientists thought. During the last four decades, the average temperature of the Arctic has increased almost four times faster than the world averageresearchers report Aug. 11 in Earth and Environment Communications.
And that’s just on average. Some parts of the Arctic Ocean, such as the Barents Sea between Russia and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, are warming up to seven times faster, meteorologist Mika Rantanen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki and his colleagues have found. Previous studies tended to say that the average Arctic temperature is rising two to three times faster than elsewhere, as humans continue to drive climate change.
To calculate the true rate of accelerated warming, a phenomenon called arctic amplificationthe researchers averaged four sets of satellite data from 1979 to 2021 (Serial number: 7/1/20). Globally, the average temperature rise during that time was about 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. But the Arctic was warming by around 0.75 degrees Celsius per decade.
Even the best climate models aren’t doing a great job of reproducing that warming, Rantanen and colleagues say. The models’ inability to realistically simulate past Arctic amplification calls into question how well the models can project future changes there.
It is not clear where the problem is. One problem may be that the models have difficulty correctly simulating the sensitivity of Arctic temperatures to sea ice loss. Disappearing snow and ice, particularly sea ice, is one of the main reasons Arctic warming is in hyperdrive. Bright white snow and ice create a reflective shield that bounces incoming radiation from the sun back into space. But open ocean waters or bare rocks absorb that heat and raise the temperature.