Trajectory of the Arctic as an integrated system

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor (ad hoc): J. E. Hobbie. For reprints of this Invited Feature, see footnote 1, p. 1743.

Abstract

Although much remains to be learned about the Arctic and its component processes, many of the most urgent scientific, engineering, and social questions can only be approached through a broader system perspective. Here, we address interactions between components of the Arctic system and assess feedbacks and the extent to which feedbacks (1) are now underway in the Arctic and (2) will shape the future trajectory of the Arctic system. We examine interdependent connections among atmospheric processes, oceanic processes, sea-ice dynamics, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, land surface stocks of carbon and water, glaciers and ice caps, and the Greenland ice sheet. Our emphasis on the interactions between components, both historical and anticipated, is targeted on the feedbacks, pathways, and processes that link these different components of the Arctic system. We present evidence that the physical components of the Arctic climate system are currently in extreme states, and that there is no indication that the system will deviate from this anomalous trajectory in the foreseeable future. The feedback for which the evidence of ongoing changes is most compelling is the surface albedo-temperature feedback, which is amplifying temperature changes over land (primarily in spring) and ocean (primarily in autumn–winter). Other feedbacks likely to emerge are those in which key processes include surface fluxes of trace gases, changes in the distribution of vegetation, changes in surface soil moisture, changes in atmospheric water vapor arising from higher temperatures and greater areas of open ocean, impacts of Arctic freshwater fluxes on the meridional overturning circulation of the ocean, and changes in Arctic clouds resulting from changes in water vapor content.

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