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Polar bears in Arctic

Polar bears stand on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean on August 19, 2017. (Photo: Lev Fedoseyev/TASS via Getty Images)

Arctic Warming Nearly Four Times Faster Than Earth as a Whole, Study Finds

"Scientific data keeps showing that the situation is more urgent than we had previously thought."

Julia Conley

Scientists have been underestimating how rapidly the Arctic is heating up compared to the Earth as a whole, according to a new study which found the region is growing hotter nearly four times faster than the global average.

"We were frustrated by the fact that there's this saying that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the globe. But when you look at the data, you can easily see that it is close to four."

Researchers at the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki found that between 1979, when advanced satellite measurements of global temperatures began, and 2021, the icy northern region warmed 3.8 times faster than the rest of the planet—nearly twice the rate that had long been estimated.

"We were frustrated by the fact that there's this saying that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the globe," Mika Rantanen, the lead author of the study, told the New York Times. "But when you look at the data, you can easily see that it is close to four."

Rantanen and his colleagues began examining the issue after heat waves in Siberia drew international attention.

A year ago, smoke from wildfires in the region drifted to the North Pole for the first time in recorded history.

Climate scientists and the International Energy Agency have warned that humanity must stop extracting oil, coal, and gas and pumping carbon emissions into the atmosphere in order to keep the planet from heating more than 2° Celsius above preindustrial temperatures.

The heating of the globe has caused Arctic ice, such as the vast Greenland ice sheet, to melt at a faster rate than in the past. In addition to pushing sea levels up, melting ice becomes part of a feedback loop in the Arctic: While ice reflects heat from sunlight, water absorbs it, making it more likely that ice that comes into contact with warmer water will continue melting.

"That's why the temperature trends are the highest [in] those areas where the sea ice has declined most," Rantanen told NPR.

Some parts of the Arctic, including the Barents Sea, are warming seven times faster than the global average.

The research was published in Communications Earth & Environment as the U.S. House was preparing to take up the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369 billion for investments in renewable energy and is expected to sharply reduce U.S. carbon emissions. The bill also includes what climate advocates say are major concessions to the fossil fuel industry, including continued oil and gas lease sales.

"With new evidence showing that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet, scientific data keeps showing that the situation is more urgent than we had previously thought," said Robert Orttung, a research professor at George Washington University and director of research for Sustainable GW. "Congress's recent action is a step in the right direction, but more is needed."


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