A difference of half a degree Celsius would make a huge difference in the future of the Arctic. A carbon sequestration project in Iceland offers hope of keeping warming under control.
Half a degree difference in temperature may seem inconsequential, but it matters a great deal in the Arctic.
The Earth has already warmed 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th Century, but the Arctic is warming two or three times faster. Now, a recent United Nations report is looking at what is likely to happen if global temperatures vault past 1.5 to 2C — and the Arctic heats up even more.
“The Arctic takes a leading role in the concerns expressed in the report,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, a senior scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute and one of the report’s 91 authors, said during the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland last month.
Half a degree could be the difference between having summer Arctic sea ice or not. Under 1.5C of global warming, the Arctic Ocean is likely to be ice-free in the summer once in a century. That risk rises to once per decade at 2C. The change would affect organisms on all levels, from algae and copepods to fish, whales and other marine mammals — and the people who rely on them for food and other uses.
Warming of 2C would also bring a later ice freeze-up and a longer ice-free open water season. There would be more storm surges and extreme weather events, and accelerated permafrost thaw. If warming remained at 1.5C, on the other hand, approximately 2 million square kilometers of permafrost — an area larger than Alaska — would remain frozen. In Alaska alone, the impact of climate change on public infrastructure could cost as much as $5.5 billion.
The Arctic has already endured the strain of global warming. For example, land ice loss has doubled since 2008. Canada’s Arctic glaciers are melting faster than ever before due to warming air temperatures; in the past 16 years, five glaciers have been lost entirely.
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