Future Arctic climate changes: Adaptation and mitigation time scales

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Abstract

The climate in the Arctic is changing faster than in midlatitudes. This is shown by increased temperatures, loss of summer sea ice, earlier snow melt, impacts on ecosystems, and increased economic access. Arctic sea ice volume has decreased by 75% since the 1980s. Long-lasting global anthropogenic forcing from carbon dioxide has increased over the previous decades and is anticipated to increase over the next decades. Temperature increases in response to greenhouse gases are amplified in the Arctic through feedback processes associated with shifts in albedo, ocean and land heat storage, and near-surface longwave radiation fluxes. Thus, for the next few decades out to 2040, continuing environmental changes in the Arctic are very likely, and the appropriate response is to plan for adaptation to these changes. For example, it is very likely that the Arctic Ocean will become seasonally nearly sea ice free before 2050 and possibly within a decade or two, which in turn will further increase Arctic temperatures, economic access, and ecological shifts. Mitigation becomes an important option to reduce potential Arctic impacts in the second half of the 21st century. Using the most recent set of climate model projections (CMIP5), multimodel mean temperature projections show an Arctic-wide end of century increase of +13°C in late fall and +5°C in late spring for a business-as-usual emission scenario (RCP8.5) in contrast to +7°C in late fall and +3°C in late spring if civilization follows a mitigation scenario (RCP4.5). Such temperature increases demonstrate the heightened sensitivity of the Arctic to greenhouse gas forcing.

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