Why Arctic melting could signal 'full-blown climate catastrophe'

·Environment Editor
·2-min read

A “clear underestimation” is how scientists have labelled “possibly outdated” modelling which found the Arctic is warming at two to three times the rate of the rest of the planet.

The region had actually been warming four times as fast as the global average between 1979 and 2021, according to analysis published in Communications Earth and Environment.

The study was published a day after researchers revealed the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing mass and could be more vulnerable to global heating than previously thought.

The Arctic is warming at a rate four times the global average, according to new analysis. Source: Communications Earth and Environment / Getty
The Arctic is warming at a rate four times the global average, according to new analysis. Source: Communications Earth and Environment / Getty

It contains the majority of Earth's glacier ice, a sea-level equivalent to 52 metres, and under high-emissions scenarios its decline could contribute to several metres of rising in the coming centuries.

How melting sea ice amplifies global warming

The Climate Council’s Dr Simon Bradshaw explains that sea ice “acts like a mirror” reflecting solar radiation back into space, but when that’s replaced by dark ocean water more heat is absorbed.

“That’s one of the main reasons why the Arctic has warmed so much faster than the rest of the world,” he said.

It’s just one of a number of several weather-related feedback loops predicted to occur as climate change continues to worsen.

Another example is increased melting of Arctic permafrost triggering the release of previously trapped carbon and methane stores which adds further emissions into the atmosphere.

Why Australia is a major contributor of global emissions

While the Albanese government has set an ambitious emissions reductions target for 2030, Australia remains the world’s third largest exporter of fossil fuels.

Australia Institute’s climate and energy program director Richie Merzian argues Australia has a “global responsibility” to reduce not only its domestic emissions, but those it exports.

“There are numerous policies it could put in place that would expedite this transition to a decarbonised economy and do our fair share to help the planet,” he said.

“That begins with a position around no new coal and gas (mines)."

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