Air temperatures in the Arctic are driving system change

Peaks of the southern Brooks Range along a stretch of the Dalton Highway. CREDIT: UAF photo by Todd Paris

A new paper shows that air temperature is the “smoking gun” behind climate change in the Arctic, according to John Walsh, chief scientist for the UAF International Arctic Research Center.

“The Arctic system is trending away from its 20th century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic,” according to lead author Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland in Copenhagen.

Several University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers are co-authors on the paper, which says that “increasing air temperatures and precipitation are drivers of major changes in various components of the Arctic system.”

The study is the first to combine observations of physical climate indicators, such as snow cover, with biological impacts, such as a mismatch in the timing of flowers blooming and pollinators working.

Climate indicators are key pieces of information that capture the essence of a system, according to Walsh. An example would be September sea ice extent, which summarizes the effects of things like temperature, winds, ocean heat and other variables.

“I didn’t expect the tie-in with temperature to be as strong as it was,” Walsh said. “All the variables are connected with temperature. All components of the Arctic system are involved in this change.”

The authors of the study hope that these indicator-based observations provide a foundation for a more integrated understanding of the Arctic and its role in the dynamics of the Earth’s biogeophysical systems.

Research article: Key indicators of Arctic climate change: 1971–2017

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