× Dismiss

Never Miss an Update.

Arctic Deeply is designed to help you understand the complex web of environmental, social and economic issues in the High North. Our editors and expert contributors are working around the clock to bring you greater clarity and comprehensive coverage of Arctic issues.

Sign up to our newsletter to receive our weekly updates, special reports, and featured insights on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Thank You, Deeply

Dear Arctic Deeply Community,

As issues in the Arctic continue to evolve, as does news coverage of the region, we have decided to transition how we cover the Arctic as of September 15, 2017.

Ongoing Arctic coverage will be folded into our newest platform, Oceans Deeply, on a dedicated channel. You can sign up for the Oceans Deeply newsletter here.

Our trove of Arctic news will remain available through an archived version of the site, allowing you to explore and reference our published articles since December 2015.

We are currently exploring the creation of a community platform focused on Indigenous Life, in the Arctic and in diverse communities around the world. If that platform is of interest to you, please let us know below – we would love your input as we shape this initiative.

Thank you for being part of the Arctic Deeply community.


Lara Setrakian, CEO and Co-Founder, News Deeply
Todd Woody, Executive Editor, Environment, News Deeply

Climate Heads for Irreversible Change

CLIMATE NEWS NETWORK: With the U.N. climate conference still trying to agree on an effective way to tackle global warming, a scientific group warns that policy is ignoring the reality of the melting cryosphere, where change is happening faster and more dramatically than anywhere else on earth.

Written by Alex Kirby Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
9a64afbc e6fb 4eec b258 7d712e 5669c3bacf7b1

PARIS – Some of the world’s coldest places, on land and sea, may be plunged into an unstoppable transition to a climate system most scientists believe has not existed for 35-50 million years.

The almost immediate consequences would include the loss of reliable water resources for millions of people, and the start of a process leading to ultimate sea level rise of 4-10 metres (12-30 feet) or more.

The warning comes in a report by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI), a group of scientists, diplomats and others who say climate change “is happening in the cryosphere faster and more dramatically than anywhere else on earth.”

The report says that unless the negotiators at the COP21 climate change summit in Paris show far more ambition than they have so far, the verdict on this conference will be “too little, too late.”

Cryosphere dynamics

Pam Pearson, ICCI’s founder and director, introduced the report on the risks of irreversible climate change in the cryosphere − the scientific name for the parts of the world that are covered in ice and snow for part or all of the year – by saying: “We are worried by the disconnect between cryosphere dynamics and the policy response.”

The report warns of “the very great risks posed by the irreversible cryosphere thresholds,” and says that current Intended Nationally Determined Contributions − (INDCs − plans detailing the greenhouse gas emissions cuts countries agree to make) − “will not prevent our crossing into this zone of irreversibility.”

Only a new Little Ice Age, it says, might re-establish some of today’s mountain glaciers or halt the melting of polar ice sheets.

The ICCI’s report says there is little time to act as thresholds are drawing closer. “Unless governments move quickly and effectively in Paris towards larger, earlier commitments to keep peak temperatures in the cryosphere as low as possible, the windows to prevent some of these changes may close during the 2020-2030 commitment period. And some of these thresholds … cannot be reversed at all.”

The report draws together findings published in the IPCC’s fifth assessment report and more recently, focuses on five distinct topics.

On terrestrial ice sheets, it says the total committed sea level rise today is ultimately about 1 metre (3 feet), mainly from existing glacier melt and the thermal expansion of seawater.

But there is an additional projected rise of 3m-4m (9-12 feet) from West Antarctica, and 7m (21 feet) from Greenland − “a total of around 10m (30 ft), close to imminent irreversibility, from the two most vulnerable ice sheets on the planet.” The much larger East Antarctic ice sheet may be similarly vulnerable.

The report is − at least, in theory − more hopeful about glaciers. Their present melting owes more to human influences than to natural processes, it says, and many − for example, in the northern Andes − have already reached the point of no return.

But restoring global temperatures to pre-industrial levels “may eventually allow the re-establishment of glacier systems on many mountains.”

It expects the world to lose anywhere between 30 percent and 70 percent of the permafrost in its top few metres of soil by 2100 − a range that depends on temperatures rising somewhere between 1.5C and 4.5C (2.7F and 8.1F).

Any loss of permafrost would increase atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, fuelling further warming. And this loss will be irreversible, except on geological timescales.

Temperature rise

Since 1950, Arctic sea ice has lost half its area and half its thickness, helping to cause the phenomenon of Arctic amplification − the greater temperature rise (approaching 3C or 5.4F) observed in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth.

With continued temperature rise, the ICCI expects that the Arctic will normally be ice-free for part of each summer by the end of this century.

How acidification is affecting the Arctic and the southern oceans is also examined in the report, although they are not technically parts of the cryosphere.

It says there is substantial risk, even below 2C (3.6F), that growing climate-induced acidity will damage ecosystems and weaken the food chain, affecting fisheries and populations of other species.

It warns the negotiators in Paris: “After 2030, changing the course of our global climate, and therefore future human history, becomes far more difficult. Never has a single generation held the future of so many coming generations, species and ecosystems in its hands.” – Climate News Network.

Top image: An iceberg melts off the coast of Ammasalik, Greenland. A new report introduces the risks of irreversible climate change in the cryosphere – the parts of the world covered by snow and ice for part of all of the year. (AP Photo/John McConnico)

Become a Contributor.

Have a story idea? Interested in adding your voice to our growing community?

Learn more