The Arctic Ocean has melted at a pace unlike any time in at least 2,500 years, a recent paper from NASA and the University of Bristol in the U.K. revealed. Changes in weather patterns, along with rising carbon dioxide and methane emissions, have led to greater sea ice loss, which in turn has made the Arctic Ocean increasingly turbulent and prone to a rapid switch from snow to rain. As the Arctic drifts into a state of sudden, sustained warming, the threat of changes to crop yields and fishery stocks become more dangerous.
In a first, these findings, which have been making the rounds in the scientific community in recent weeks, haven’t been peer-reviewed. But the paper’s author, Zhiqiang Zhu, a tropical ecologist at the University of Bristol, argues that the models he’s used have typically been applied to a more global outlook rather than geographically specific data. This lack of independent confirmation of the method’s validity is a problem for models used to project climate changes, as it increases the risk of misrepresenting data.
More pressing for the world is that rapid changes in Arctic permafrost could lead to long-term loss of large bodies of frozen sediment, as well as the release of methane, a greenhouse gas. With fossil fuels melting to the bottom, “tundra provides important interface of two temperature extremes,” Zhu said. Permafrost interferes with the melting process, keeping inland water ice “preserved in a very thin, creamy layer,” he said. In many areas, “sea ice is replacing or replacing permafrost, which, due to climate change, we don’t really expect to go on in the future.”
Due to government funding cuts, scientists at the Met Office, which manages Britain’s weather forecasting, couldn’t find the resources to run the rigorous simulations necessary to look at the results, said Martyn Burrows, chief of the authority’s science research division. Before the recent research, “obviously in the mid-term, past 10 to 15 years, these temperatures are clearly indicating that we’re not going to get back to long-term average levels of temperatures that we had before the industrial revolution,” Burrows said.
The U.K. government’s Economic and Social Research Council, in partnership with China’s National Development and Reform Commission, is “developing” a paper to be published at the next round of COP24 climate negotiations in December, Burrows said.
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