Arctic warms three times faster than planet, harming animals and people

Polar bear looks into camera standing on ice surrounded by grey water
Polar bear walking on sea ice in the Arctic, photo: Vladsilver via Canva

The Arctic has warmed three times more quickly than the planet as a whole, a report from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) warned on Thursday.

“The Arctic is a real hotspot for climate warming,” said Jason Box, a glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

In less than half a century, from 1971 to 2019, the Arctic’s average annual temperature rose by 3.1 degrees Celsius, compared to 1 degree Celsius for the planet as a whole.

That’s more than previously suspected. And the warming is not coming to an end any time soon.

According to forecasts in the report, by the end of the century, average temperatures in the Arctic are expected to rise 3.3 to 10 degrees above the average for the period 1985-2014. Arctic sea ice could disappear completely in summers.

Warming has immediate consequences for the Arctic ecosystem, including changes in habitat, food habits and interactions between animals, like polar bears, and the migration of some species.

The consequences are also dramatic for the four million people who live in the region, especially indigenous peoples.

“Hunters in northwestern Greenland report that the period when travel by dog sleds on sea ice is possible, has decreased from five to three months,” said Sarah Trainor, director of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

Thinner seals
“Indigenous hunters and fishermen in Canada and Russia have reported thinner seals, decreased health of wildlife and a greater prevalence of worms in fish and sea mammals,” Trainor added.

A warmer Arctic is also more humid, with rain replacing snow. “Reindeer herders in Fennoscandia (Finland and Scandinavia) and Russia have experienced major losses in their herds due to extreme snowfall and rain-on-snow events,” Trainor said. The layers of frozen rain prevent reindeer from reaching their food.

“No one on Earth is immune to Arctic warming,” the AMAP report said, noting its effects were felt far and wide. The melting of hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice each year in Greenland leads to rising sea levels, which endanger the lives of people and animals living thousands of kilometers away.

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