New data presented by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) at a Tuesday side event in Durban show snow and ice cover in the Arctic has been depleting at an alarming rate, and the Arctic Ocean could become ice-free during summer seasons already by mid-century. By 2100, the fast-melting Arctic ice cap could lead global sea level to rise by1.6 meters.
These updated assessments, summarized in the 2011 Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) report by AMAP, also say the six years of most recent observations – between 2005 and 2010 – were the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic region, with temperatures holding at higher levels for any five-year period since measurements began around 1880. Higher surface air temperatures are the driving force behind the dramatic changes in the Arctic climate, said the report in its key findings, and scientific evidence confirms that “two components of the Arctic cryosphere – snow and sea ice – are interacting with the climate system to accelerate warming.”
The dangerous changes happening in the Arctic environment, said AMAP’s Executive Secretary Lars-Otto Reiersen during the presentation, will have impact for the whole world.
According to the researchers, in the past years both “the extent and duration of snow cover and sea ice have decreased across the Arctic. Temperatures in the permafrost have risen by up to 2°C. The southern limit of permafrost has moved northward in Russia and Canada.”
Large bodies of ice such as multiyear sea ice, mountain glaciers, and the Greenland Ice Sheet, are melting faster now – faster since 2000 than they did in the previous decade, the report says. In particular, net loss of mass from the Greenland Ice Sheet has increased from an estimated 50 gigatons per year between 1995 and 2000 to some 200 gigatons per year in 2004 to 2008. The loss of some 200 gigatons per year is commensurate, in area terms, with the size of Australia – or equivalent, as the researchers put it, to “enough water to supply more than one billion city-dwellers.” In 2010, Greenland’s yearly rate of ice loss amounted already to 300 gigatons.
Aside from other harmful effects caused by the accelerated melting, the Arctic glaciers, ice cap, and the Greenland Ice Sheet “contributed over 40 percent of the global sea level rise of around 3 millimeters per year observed between 2003 and 2008” and “will make a substantial contribution” to the forecasted sea level rise of 0.9 meters to 1.6 meters projected by 2100.
The SWIPA researchers say with confidence that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as it presented its projections for the Arctic in 2007, underestimated significantly the rates of changes now observed in the region.
With climate change shown to be advancing at such speeds, AMAP recommends that all members of the Arctic Council – a high-level intergovernmental forum that comprises the eight Arctic states of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States – develop regional Arctic climate change assessment programs as well as adaptation strategies.
AMAP’s experts also urged all nations now engaged in the negotiations in Durban to take all possible steps toward the adoption of a new legally binding treaty in order to curb global emissions. As for the Arctic Council states, their governments are called upon to start playing a more constructive and energetic role in helping the delegates of the current climate talks achieve that goal.