Prepare for ‘surprise’ as global warming stokes Arctic shifts: Scientists
Unless the world stops burning fossil fuels that are fuelling global warming, irreversible changes in the Arctic could have disastrous effects for the people that live there and for the rest of the planet, researchers warned yesterday.
The Arctic’s ecosystems are fundamentally threatened by climate change and other human activities, such as oil and gas extraction, they said in a report for the Arctic Council, an inter-governmental forum working to protect the region’s environment. “Arctic ecosystems are changing in dramatic ways: the ice is melting, sea levels are rising, coastal areas are eroding, permafrost is thawing, and the areas where plants and animals live are shifting,” said the report.
It identifies 19 “regime shifts” - meaning major, hard-topredict tipping points - that have happened, or could occur, in the Arctic’s land and water. They include a switch to sea-ice free summers and the collapse of various fish stocks. Those shifts affect the stability of the climate and landscape, the ability of plant and animal species to survive, and indigenous peoples’ subsistence and ways of life, the report added.
The potential impacts of Arctic regime shifts on the rest of the world are “substantial”, such as influencing Asia’s monsoon, but poorly understood, it said.
“If multiple regime shifts reinforce each other, the results could be potentially catastrophic,” Johan Rockstrˆm, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and co-chair of the five-year study, said in a statement. “The variety of effects that we could see means that Arctic people and policies must prepare for surprise. We also expect that some of those changes will destabilize the regional and global climate, with potentially major impacts.”
Co-editor Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that in the past six to 12 months, he had heard a lot more “warning bells ringing about the Arctic and what spill-back effects it might have”. This month, scientists have said temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius above the seasonal average are being registered over the Arctic Ocean, delaying the annual recovery of sea ice. — Reuters