New Studies Document Causes and Effects of Climate Change in the Arctic

The Arctic is ground zero for climate change in many ways. Two recent studies put some perspective on the scope of the changes taking place and why they’re happening.

The first study comes researchers based out of Germany and Russia. They used tree ring data to reconstruct summer temperature data over the past 400 years in Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Some of their findings will make skeptics happy. They found that solar radiation played a major role in forcing Arctic temperatures for much of the time series, including a cooling trend between 1958 and 1990.

Unfortunately for skeptics, that’s not the whole picture. Since 1970, Arctic summer temperature and solar cycles haven’t correlated much at all. And since 1990, there has been a marked warming trend, which is again not correlated with solar activity. Is it manmade climate change or other natural factors that are changing the picture? The researchers don’t explore that question in great detail, but I’d venture to guess it’s probably a little of both.

What is clear is that the skeptic argument that solar activity is the main influence on Earth’s climate may have held water before we started emitting carbon. But as our atmosphere has become saturated with greenhouse gases, there are other, more powerful forces at work shaping the climate in the Arctic. The study notes:

“The good coherence of multi-decadal to secular trends of our reconstruction and series of observed solar activity indicate that solar activity may have been one major driving factor of past climate on Kola Peninsula.” (emphasis added)

The second study about the Arctic comes from Stanford. Rather than focusing on reconstructing temperature data, the study looks at a major climate change culprit: black carbon or soot.  Black carbon is a short-lived but potent warming agent that’s a byproduct of burning biomass and fossil fuels. It

The study, done by Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson, found that black carbon is second only to carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. Using an innovative new model, Jacobson included how soot interacts with cloud droplets, something that has never been done before. The model also included interactions with sea ice and snow in the Arctic region.

The findings indicate that eliminating black carbon could cool the Arctic by up to 1.7 degrees Celsius in the next 15 years. Additionally, reducing black carbon emissions would save 1.5 million lives annually. In comparison, parts of the Arctic have warmed 2.5 degrees Celsius over the past century and projected to warm significantly in the coming century if nothing is done to mitigate climate change.

Reducing black carbon emissions would buy policymakers valuable time to figure out how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also one of the easier fixes technologically and politically.

Knowing that the Arctic’s climate is changing is reason enough to act on black carbon and other climate change mitigation policies. These two studies provide some perspective on what’s happening and how to act. Let’s hope they don’t slide by the wayside.

Photo Credit: Flickr