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IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme

Artic Warming Predicted to Have Catastrophic Consequences Around The Globe

A new report entitled The Arctic Resilience Report (see indicates that temperatures in the Arctic are currently about 200C above what would be expected for the time of year and that sea ice is at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year.

One concern highlighted by the report is that the developments above make the potential for triggering "tipping points" and "feedback loops" whereby the warming of one area or type of landscape has knock-on effects for whole ecosystems. Climate tipping points occur when a natural system, such as the polar ice cap, undergoes sudden or overwhelming change that has a profound effect on surrounding ecosystems, these changes the report says are often irreversible.

The Artic tipping points they highlight include:

  • growth in vegetation on tundra, which replaces reflective snow and ice with darker vegetation, thus absorbing more heat;
  • higher releases of methane, from the tundra as it warms;
  • shifts in snow distribution that warm the ocean, resulting in altered climate patterns as far away as Asia, where the monsoon could be effected;
  • and the collapse of some key Arctic fisheries, with knock-on effects on ocean ecosystems around the globe.

They also warn that that people living in and near the Arctic would be badly affected, and called for communities to be provided with equipment and skills to survive. They took evidence from a variety of settlements in the region, finding many signs of significant changes already under way.

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