The Arctic is already suffering the effects of dangerous climate change

A group of scientists IMEDEA (UIB-CSIC), are demanding a systematic effort to mitigate its causes

Two decades after the establishment of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to "prevent dangerous interference with the human hand in the Earth's climate system," the Arctic shows the first signs of dangerous climate change. So says a group of scientists, led by the National Research Council (CSIC), in an article published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

Researchers say the Arctic is already suffering some of the effects, according to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), correspond to a "dangerous climate change." The rate of warming already exceeds the natural adaptation of Arctic ecosystems. In addition, Inuit communities are seeing endanger their safety, health, and traditional cultural activities.

Experts call for an effort to develop indicators that alert in advance of these changes, mitigate its causes and rebuild resilience and recovery of ecosystems and communities.

"We face the first clear evidence of dangerous climate change and yet, the scientists and the media are mired in a semantic debate about whether Arctic sea ice has reached a threshold or tipping. This is diverting attention from the need to develop indicators that warn of the proximity of future abrupt changes and policy formulation to avoid real goal of developing indicators that warn of future abrupt changes, " said the CSIC researcher Carlos Duarte, author of the article.

Thresholds or tipping points are defined as critical points within a system whose future state can be altered qualitatively by small perturbations. On the other hand, are known elements of tipping or tipping elements to those components of the Earth which can show inflection points. According to scientists, the Arctic has the highest concentration of potential tipping elements in the world, including sea ice, the Greenland ice sheet, forming regions of North Atlantic deep water, boreal forests, plankton communities, permafrost and marine methane hydrates.

"For these reasons, the Arctic is an area particularly prone to show abrupt changes and move to the global Earth system. It is necessary to find early warning signs to notify us of proximity of thresholds for development and deployment of adaptive strategies. This would help to take more preventive policies, "said Carlos Duarte.

Global climate effects

In another study published in the latest issue of AMBIO, Duarte and other researchers from the CSIC give the details of the elements of inflection present in the Arctic and provide evidence that many of them have already entered a dynamic of change that can be abrupt in most cases. According to the study, one can see many elements of inflection would impact the global climate system in case of  being disturbed.

"In this paper we provide evidence that many of these tipping elements are already in place and we identify what are the thresholds of climate change that could accelerate global climate change. The very human reaction to climate change in the Arctic, dominated by an increase in activities such as transport, navigation and exploitation of resources could help accelerate the changes already happening, "explains the scientist of the CSIC.

Scientists believe that about 40% of methane emissions from anthropogenic origin could be mitigated to a zero cost or a net economic benefit. "In a long term, restricting cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide is essential to slow tipping elements of the ice sheet of Greenland," they said.

Both papers have been developed under the European funded project Arctic Tipping Points.

Citation: Carlos M. Duarte, Timothy M. Lenton, Peter Wadhams, Paul Wassmann. 2012. Abrupt climate change in the Arctic. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1386.

Citation: Carlos M. Duarte, Susana Agustí, Paul Wassmann, Jesús M. Arrieta, Miquel Alcaraz, Alexandra Coello, Nuria Marbà, Iris E. Hendriks, Johnna Holding, Iñigo García?Zarandona, Emma Kritzberg, Dolors Vaqué. 2012. Tipping Elements in the Arctic Marine Ecosystem. Ambio. DOI: 10.1007/s13280?011?0224?7.