Exceptional temperature increase in Arctic hotspot

The Barents area is the fastest warming place on the planet. A new study shows that the warming is happening twice as fast as previously thought.

The Barents area is the fastest warming place on the planet. A new study shows that the warming is happening twice as fast as previously thought.

As a scientist working in Svalbard for more than 25 years I have never discovered more overwhelming results,” says Ketil Isaksen, senior scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and head author of the study. “I feel there are no more words left to describe what is happening in the Arctic.”

Up to seven times the global average

Over the past 20 years the temperature in the northeastern part of Svalbard has increased by five degrees Celsius.
“The northern Barents Sea region is warming at a rate that is 2 to 2½ times as fast as the average temperature increase in the Arctic, and 5 to 7 times the global average,” says Isaksen. The results show the highest temperature increase observed so far. No other place on the planet seems to be warming faster than the northern Barents Sea.

More extreme weather

The exceptional warming can lead to more extreme weather in North America and Europe, and as far away as Asia.

This is a warning about what is to come in other parts of the Arctic,” says Isaksen.

The temperature increase is strongly connected to the large reduction of sea ice, especially during autumn and winter. When the sea ice melts in the winter, the warming effect is stronger. This is because the ice normally acts as an insulating blanket. When the ice disappears, it no longer traps existing heat in the ocean. Instead, the open water warms up the cold polar air dramatically.

The study provides further evidence that sea ice reduction is the principal cause of the amplified warming in the Barents area.
The Norwegian Meteorological Institute monitors sea ice around Svalbard and in the Arctic daily and provides the public with updates through the service cryo.met.no.

Temperature trends based on observations from weather stations and ERA5 and CARRA reanalyses over the northern Barents Area. (a) The location of the main stations and main regions in the study. (b, left half) Linear trends for annual air temperature observations for the period 2001–2020. If available, the temperature trends over the 1981–2020 and 1991–2020 periods are additionally shown as dotted and solid grey line bars, respectively. (b, right half) ERA5 and CARRA reanalyses shown as thin and thick bars, respectively. In addition, temperature trends for ERA5 for the Arctic (i.e. north of 65° latitude) and global mean are shown. Source: Isaksen et al (2022) Sci Rep 12, 9371

This combination has given us a great level of detail about the development of the temperature in the region. It is also worth noting that the results from CARRA align well with our own weather observations, and give a more comprehensive picture than the ERA5 reanalysis that was used previously,” says Isaksen.

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