Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The Yukon River winds through western interior Alaska in early April. (Photo: UAF/Todd Paris)

The Yukon River winds through western interior Alaska in early April. (Photo: UAF/Todd Paris)

Researchers Warn Arctic Has Entered 'Unprecedented State' That Threatens Global Climate Stability

"Never have so many Arctic indicators been brought together in a single paper." And the findings spell trouble for the entire planet.

Jon Queally

A new research paper by American and European climate scientists focused on Arctic warming published Monday reveals that the "smoking gun" when it comes to changes in the world's northern polar region is rapidly warming air temperatures that are having—and will continue to have—massive and negative impacts across the globe.

The new paper—titled "Key Indicators of Arctic Climate Change: 1971–2017"—is the work of scientists at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland in Copenhagen (GUES).

"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." —Jason Box, GUES

"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," said Jason Box of the GUES, lead author of the study. "Because the Arctic atmosphere is warming faster than the rest of the world, weather patterns across Europe, North America, and Asia are becoming more persistent, leading to extreme weather conditions. Another example is the disruption of the ocean circulation that can further destabilize climate: for example, cooling across northwestern Europe and strengthening of storms."

John Walsh, chief scientist at AUF's research center, was the one who called arctic air tempertures the "smoking gun" discovered during the research—a finding the team did not necessarily anticipate.

"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 study, published Monday as the flagship piece in a special issue on Arctic climate change indicators published by the journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first of its kind to combine observations of physical climate indicators—such as snow cover, rainfall, and seasonal measurements of sea ice extent—with biological impacts, such as a mismatch in the timing of flowers blooming and pollinators working.  According to Walsh, "Never have so many Arctic indicators been brought together in a single paper."

This three-and-a-half minute video put together by the research team, explains its methodology and findings in detail:

The new study comes as temperature records in the polar regions continue to break record after record. Last week, climatologists said Alaska experienced the highest March temperatures ever recorded.

Statewide temperatures averaged 27°F degrees last month, a full 4 degrees higher than the record set in 1965. Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the International Arctic Research Center at University of Alaska Fairbanks, told the Anchorage Daily News, "We're not just eking past records. This is obliterating records."

Also last month, as Common Dreams reported, the UN Environment Programme (ENUP) warned in a far-reaching report that winter temperatures in the Arctic are already "locked in" in such a way that significant sea level increases are now inevitable this century.

Rising temperatures, along with ocean acidification, pollution, and thawing permafrost threaten the Arctic and the more than four million people who inhabit it, including 10 percent who are Indigenous. But, as UNEP acting executive director Joyce Msuya noted at the time, "What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic."

That warning was echoed by the researchers behind the new study out Monday. Their hope, they said, is that the findings about air temperatures and the delicate interconnections between the climate and other natural systems in the Artic will "provide a foundation for a more integrated understanding of the Arctic and its role in the dynamics of the Earth's biogeophysical systems."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Violent Threats Against FBI Soar as Trump Lies About Mar-a-Lago Search

Menacing messages posted online "include a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb in front of FBI Headquarters" and "general calls for 'civil war' and 'armed rebellion,'" officials warned.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Biggest Win for Tax Fairness' in Decades: Progressives Cheer Reforms in IRA, Demand More

"While this bill establishes desperately needed changes to our tax laws and IRS funding, it is still a far cry from the systemic changes that we need in our society to rectify the hold the rich still have on every level of our economy."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Care Can't Wait': IRA a Good Start, Progressives Say, But More Is Needed

"Americans deserve a full loaf of bread," said health justice advocate Ady Barkan.

Kenny Stancil ·


'I'm Back': Fetterman Returns to Campaign Trail Following May Stroke

"I'm not only grateful to be alive, but also for the campaign we're building together," said the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat.

Kenny Stancil ·


Because Climate Science 'Does Not Grade on a Curve,' Experts Says IRA Not Enough

"There is an urgent need for much more aggressive and far-reaching measures to prevent climate chaos," said the head of one progressive consumer advocacy group.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo