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Climate models show carbon emission mitigation could slow Arctic temperature increases
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Climate models show carbon emission mitigation could slow Arctic temperature increases

NOAA-led research using climate model projections concludes the Arctic climate will continue to show major changes over the next decades, but that carbon emission mitigation could slow temperature changes in the second half of the century, according to a paper published by AGU’s Earth’s Future.

“We are already seeing and should expect to see continued dramatic changes in the Arctic, where temperature increases are occurring faster than in the mid-latitudes due to greenhouse gases combined with multiple local physical feedbacks,” said James Overland, Ph.D., the lead author from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “But we can potentially slow the rate of climate change in the second half of the century if we mitigate global carbon emissions.”

Climate model projections show an Arctic-wide end-of-century temperature increase of +13∘ Celsius in late fall and +5∘ Celsius in late spring if the status quo continues and current emissions increase without a mitigation scenario. In contrast, the mean temperature projection would be +7∘ Celsius in late fall and +3∘ Celsius in late spring by the end of the century if a mitigation scenario to reduce emissions is followed, concludes the paper titled, “Future Arctic Climate Changes: Adaptation and Mitigation Timescales.”

While models show that mitigation could slow the changes in temperature, changes that are expected to continue include additional months of open water in the Arctic Ocean, ever earlier snow melt, further loss of permafrost, increased economic access, and dramatic impacts on ecological systems, including fisheries, vegetation and wildlife.

Arctic sea ice volume has already decreased by 75 percent since the 1980s. The mean Arctic temperature is 1.5∘ Celsius higher today than it was for the period from 1971-2000, double the warming that has occurred in the lower latitudes.

Temperature increases in response to greenhouse gases are amplified in the Arctic due to large-scale changes in the ability of the Arctic to reflect sunlight. As atmospheric temperatures increase, ice and snow decline, which opens up larger areas of water and land to the sun. Open water and snow and ice-free land absorb and store heat at a much higher rate than snow and ice, which reflects sunlight and heat. This physical process is known as Arctic amplification.  

The new research predicts that it is likely that the Arctic Ocean will become nearly free of sea ice during late summer before 2050 with a possibility of open water within the next decades, which would further increase Arctic temperatures, economic access to waters and ecological shifts. 

To read the research, please click here.

For more information, please contact Monica Allen, Director of Public Affairs @ NOAA Research, 301-734-1123 or

For more on the Arctic see:

Arctic Report Card, 2013

Arctic Report Card Visual Highlights

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