The Arctic is warming faster than expected

14 March, 2023

The sea ice in the Arctic will melt much faster than previously thought because today’s climate models underestimate the rate, according to new research.

This fact is particularly concerning because the warming of the Arctic affects the whole earth. However, measuring the Arctic is difficult, and there are relatively few observations from the region, which contributes to the lack of knowledge.

– It is uncertain how thick the ice is, which can determine how quickly it melts, says Torben Königk, head of global climate modeling at SMHI.

This lack of knowledge means that climate models can give incorrect answers regarding how fast the Arctic is warming. Two new studies published in the Journal of Climate confirm that the models get the water amounts and temperature of the water flowing up into the polar ocean wrong. The researchers’ conclusion is that the polar ice will melt faster than expected.


– This is serious. If the world’s governments and organizations are to be able to trust the climate models, they must be revised, says Céline Heuzé, a researcher in climate science at Gothenburg University and lead author of one of the studies.

– That is why research and data collection in the Arctic need to be prioritized. Currently, we cannot give a good forecast of how fast the ice is melting in the Arctic.

The Arctic is the area around the North Pole. There is no clear limit. Graphics: Anna-Lena Lindqvist/TT

Four times faster

Previous research has shown that the rate at which the poles are warming has been underestimated. In the past, it has been said that the Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the Earth, but last fall, a study pointed out that it is happening three to four times faster in the Arctic.

Keeping track of the Arctic is important for several reasons. Melting land ice contributes to global sea-level rise, and when ice disappears, it contributes to further warming by absorbing more heat from the ocean rather than reflecting it away.

Research also indicates that a warmed Arctic can affect air currents and possibly contribute to, for example, droughts and cyclones in other parts of the globe, according to Torben Königk.

“A clear sign”

TT: Should we be worried?

– We have reached a point in climate change when it is almost impossible to prevent the ice there from disappearing completely during parts of the summer. It is a clear sign that we have failed to reduce global warming, Königk warns.

The researchers behind the new studies are calling for a special climate model adapted for the Arctic. However, Königk is not sure that would help.

– I think it’s better to have global models because the Arctic is connected to the rest of the Earth. But you can try to increase the resolution so that we can better describe how warmer water moves into the Arctic and contributes to melting the ice, he says.

Text: Hanna Odelfors/TT/Nyhetsbyrån
Photo: David Goldman/AP/TT
Graphics: Anna-Lena Lindqvist/TT

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