Air temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at least twice as fast as the global average. What worries climate scientists about the Arctic summer of 2019? And why does it matter for the rest of the world?
In the Arctic, a summer of heat, melting and fire was rounded off by news that 2019 saw the second-lowest ever minimum extent of sea ice. That’s the point in early autumn each year when scientists say that the Arctic Ocean will begin to freeze again. By that measure, only 2012 had less sea ice than this year.
Meanwhile, the IPCC‘s latest special report on the oceans and cryosphere was full of bad news (the cryosphere is that part of the earth system where water occurs in its frozen form, usually as snow or ice). The region’s glacier ice is retreating, the ground is thawing, forests are becoming a fire risk. Only people in low lying islands are as vulnerable to climate change as those in the Arctic, according to the IPCC.
So what happened in the Arctic in 2019? And why do Arctic geographers like me say what happens there matters so much for the world?
CLIMATE CHANGE IS here, heating the oceans and crumbling the planet’s ice sheets, a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lays out.
On Wednesday, the IPCC released a major report on the state of the planet’s oceans and ice. The 900-page report, which compiles the findings from thousands of scientific studies, outlines the damage climate change has already done to the planet’s vast oceans and fragile ice sheets and forecasts the future for these crucial parts of the climate system.
Climate change’s impacts, the report says, are already readily visible from the top of the highest mountain to the very bottom of the ocean—and tangible for every human on the planet.
The problems aren’t theoretical, the report stresses: Science shows that they are here, now. And the oceans, polar ice caps, and high mountain glaciers have already absorbed so much extra heat from human-caused global warming that the very systems human existence depends on are already at stake.
For example, Planpincieux glacier on the Italian side of Mount Blanc is expected to collapse at any time, prompting road closures and evacuations of structures in the area. And in the oceans, many fisheries have shifted and shrunken, impacting million-dollar businesses and subsistence fishers alike. The 27 percent of Earth’s human population that lives near coasts are bearing the brunt of higher seas and stronger storms. Marine “heat waves” sweep across the ocean twice as often as they did only three decades ago. And millions that rely on water from high-mountain glaciers and snowpack, the “water towers” of the world, are adjusting to both newly strengthened floods and devastating droughts.
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