For years now, scientists have been concerned that a global warming tipping point would soon be reached in the Arctic. The worry was that heat would eventually erode the Arctic’s ability to self-insulate. Once this happened, a number of feedbacks would come into play that not only more rapidly increase warming in the Arctic, but that accelerate warming on a global scale.
Now, in a study that can only be called a bombshell, NOAA is saying that we are past the tipping point and an age of unprecedented global change is to follow. The study, entitled “The Recent Shift in Early Summer Arctic Atmospheric Circulation,” examines how wind patterns have changed in the Arctic. It shows that winds which once blew from east to west have now consistently altered to a north-south orientation.
The study notes that these wind changes have been brought on by an erosion of Arctic sea ice. This loss results in a climate impact that pushes the polar jet stream into its new orientation. That new orientation transports warm air into the Arctic environment from the south accelerating the loss of sea ice and creating a dangerous situation of amplifying Greenland ice melt and rapidly accelerating changes to the Arctic environment.
The NOAA press release stated:
“Our research reveals a change in the summer Arctic wind pattern over the past six years. This shift demonstrates a physical connection between reduced Arctic sea ice in the summer, loss of Greenland ice, and potentially, weather in North America and Europe,” said Overland, a NOAA research oceanographer.
The shift provides additional evidence that changes in the Arctic are not only directly because of global warming, as shown by warmer air and sea temperatures, but are also part of an “Arctic amplification” through which multiple Arctic-specific physical processes interact to accelerate temperature change, ice variability, and ecological impacts.
The bolded line is very word and detail dense. In short, what it amounts to is a sort of scientific primal scream.
I’ll do my best to summarize for you.
The first point is that the Arctic is being impacted by global warming, which is increasing Arctic melt. This results in hotter sea and air temperatures.
But the second and most critical point is that the Arctic changes are also part of what is called Arctic amplification. Arctic amplification is a kind of tipping point that, when reached, the physical nature of the Arctic is such that it creates a heating feedback loop. The qualities of the Arctic that cause such a feedback include: the change in wind patterns dredging hot air up from the south, the loss of ice and snow reflectivity or albedo, and the increased production of methane from melting tundra and warming seas.
In short, what NOAA is saying is that now not only will the melt rates in the Arctic increase, but the rates of temperature rise in the Arctic and around the world will likely start to increase as well. Further, these changes are likely to result in severe weather extremes the likes of which we are completely unaccustomed to. I’ll repeat the relevant part of the bolded line by restating that changes in the Arctic, according to NOAA, will accelerate temperature change, ice variability, and ecological impacts.
This is NOAA’s way of saying it’s likely going to get hotter faster, the ice will likely melt faster, and more of Earth’s life, including humans, will be impacted.
NOAA’s research follows a ground-breaking study recently published by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers which identified the changes in wind patterns and noted that these changes created a high risk of extreme weather in the temperate zones. To this point, Francis noted:
“What we’re seeing is stark evidence that the gradual temperature increase is not the important story related to climate change; it’s the rapid regional changes and increased frequency of extreme weather that global warming is causing. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, we expect an increased probability of extreme weather events across the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where billions of people live,” said Jennifer Francis, Ph.D, of Rutgers.
The pace of change is increasing and with each new study stark revelations are being made about how the Arctic is falling into a phase of rapid warming and radical change. The results of this transition will be that humans will experience changes with a speed not seen since the first days of civilization. These changes were preventable. But we did not reduce our use of fossil fuels fast enough. Now, the best response will be a rapid transition to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels lest we further aggravate a situation that is already very dangerous.