The Arctic has warmed three times faster than the planet as a whole, and faster than previously thought, a report warned Thursday.
Arctic sea ice appears to be one of the first victims of rising temperatures, with every fraction of a degree making a big difference: the likelihood of it disappearing entirely in summer is 10 times greater if the Earth warms by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels compared to 1.5C, the target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The alarming finding comes from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) in a report scheduled to coincide with a ministerial meeting this week of the Arctic Council in Reykjavik, which brings together countries bordering the region.
“The Arctic is a real hot spot for global warming,” said Jason Box, glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.
In less than half a century, from 1971 to 2019, the annual average temperature in the Arctic increased by 3.1 ° C, compared to 1 ° C for the entire planet.
This is more than we previously suspected. In a 2019 report on Earth’s frozen spaces, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that the air temperature at the surface of the Arctic likely had increased “by more than double the world average”.
– Forest fires –
According to the researchers, a turning point came in 2004 when the temperature in the Arctic rose for a largely unexplained reason.
# photo1 Since then, warming has continued at a rate 30% higher than in previous decades.
The region is now experiencing “increasingly lasting warm winter events,” Box told AFP.
During the summer months of June through September, there is additional heat from the ocean, which is increasingly free from ice and the insulation it provides.
And the warming isn’t ending anytime soon.
According to the report’s predictions, by the end of the century, average temperatures in the Arctic are expected to rise 3.3 to 10 degrees above average for the period 1985-2014.
The final figure depends on how quickly humanity is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.
Warming has immediate consequences for the Arctic ecosystem, including changes in habitat, eating habits and interactions between animals – including the iconic polar bear – and the migration of some species.
From Siberia to Alaska, forest fires have also become a problem.
“This is what 3C looks like, it’s not just numbers, it’s forests on fire,” Box said.
“The impacts of wildland fires are not limited to public safety concerns, such as the protection of life and property,” said US researcher Michael Young, coordinator of the Council’s wildland firefighting projects. of the Arctic.
“The smoke they produce also contains carbon dioxide and carbon black, both of which contribute to climate change. “
– Impact global –
The consequences are also dramatic for the four million people who live in the region, especially indigenous peoples.
“Hunters in Northwest Greenland report that the period of dog sledding over sea ice has been reduced from five to three months,” said Sarah Trainor, director of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.
“Indigenous hunters and fishermen in Canada and Russia have reported thinner seals, decreased wildlife health and a greater prevalence of worms in fish and marine mammals,” she added.
A warmer Arctic is also wetter, with rain replacing snow.
“Reindeer herders in Fennoscandia (Finland and Scandinavia) and Russia have suffered significant losses in their herds due to extreme snowfall and rain-on-snow events,” Trainor added, as layers of frozen rain prevent the reindeer reach the lichen they eat.
“No one on Earth is immune to arctic warming,” the AMAP report said, noting that its effects have been felt very widely.
The melting of hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice every year in Greenland causes sea level to rise, putting the lives of people thousands of miles away.
Receding ice has opened up economic opportunities – often to the dismay of environmental activists – including new fishing grounds, new trade routes, and easier access to potential mineral, oil and gas resources.
However, notes Trainor, “the potential for expansion of these industries is tempered by efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions and meet the targets set under the Paris Agreement.”
© 2021 AFP