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Keywords:

  • polar;
  • Arctic;
  • Antarctica;
  • climate

Abstract

We contrast recent climatic and environmental changes and their causes in the Arctic and the Antarctic. There are continuing increases in surface temperatures, losses of sea ice and tundra, and warming of permafrost over broad areas of the Arctic, while most of the major increase in Antarctic temperatures is on the Antarctic Peninsula associated with sea ice loss in the Bellingshausen–Amundsen Seas sector. While both natural atmospheric and oceanic variability, and changes in external forcing including increased greenhouse gas concentrations, must be considered in the quest for understanding such changes, the interactions and feedbacks between system components are particularly strong at high latitudes. For the 1950s to date in the Arctic and for 1957 to date in the Antarctic, positive trends in large-scale atmospheric circulation represented by the Arctic oscillation (AO) and Antarctic oscillations (AAO) and the Pacific North American (PNA) pattern contribute to the long-term temperature trends. However, continuing Arctic trends during the last decade of near neutral AO will require alternate explanations. The trend in the AAO since 1950 is larger than expected from natural variability and may be associated with the decrease in stratospheric ozone over Antarctic. The persistence shown in many Arctic and Antarctic Peninsula components of climate and their influence through possible feedback supports continuation of current trends over the next decade. One can expect large spatial and temporal differences, however, from the relative contributions of intrinsic variability, external forcing, and internal feedback/amplifications. It is particularly important to resolve regional feedback processes in future projections based on modeling scenarios. Copyright © 2006 Royal Meteorological Society.