The Arctic on the Frontlines
It is comforting to imagine the Arctic as a snowy faraway place, populated by reindeer and polar bears. In fact, it is a cornerstone of the climate system that keeps our weather stable, our communities habitable, and our economies prosperous – and it is under immense pressure.
LANCASTER, UK – Climate scientists have known for years that the Arctic is warming far faster than anywhere else on the planet. But even those of us who follow the Arctic closely were shocked by the changes that occurred in 2020, a year of broken records, retreating glaciers, and shattering ice sheets. The alarm bells are ringing louder than ever: we must urgently and drastically reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions.
Last year, temperatures in the Arctic Circle reached their highest-ever recorded levels. A heat wave in Arctic Siberia brought temperatures of 38°C (100°F) – 18°C higher than the average maximum daily temperature in past years. Meanwhile, fierce Arctic wildfires released a record-breaking level of carbon dioxide and set a new pollution record for the region.
With the heat turned up, the Arctic landscape has been changing fast. For the first time since records began, sea ice in the Arctic’s Eurasian sector had not yet begun freezing in October. The previous month, an ice sheet the size of Paris broke off from Greenland’s largest glacier shelf, and in July, Canada’s intact ice shelf – 4,000 years old – fragmented. As Arctic ice melts, sea levels rise, threatening countries worldwide.