The Arctic is warming far more than the rest of the world, in some regions it is already more than 3oC warmer than the 1950s, already exceeding the Paris agreements threshold. What makes this so frightening is the incredible potential the Arctic has to warm the planet further.
The albedo effect is when solar radiation enters our planet from the sun and some is reflected. Brighter surfaces are more reflective than darker ones, and so at the moment the Arctic reflects huge amounts of heat out of our atmosphere due to its bright sea ice and snow cover. However, as sea ice and snow melts, more and more solar energy is being absorbed by the Earth’s darker surfaces.
Moreover, cold Arctic temperatures have limited carbon release for tens of thousands of years, instead storing it in the frozen ground. However, as temperatures rise, the ground is starting to thaw, releasing huge volumes of carbon that is thousands of years old.
We used to think this warming would be counterbalanced by the increasing biomass (basically the amount of living stuff) from higher temperatures, which would take in more carbon. However, several studies have now shown that whilst increased temperatures does promote life, extreme events such as droughts, fires, storms and pest outbreaks are potentially decreasing the biomass.
Jarle Bjerke released one such study which revealed the unbelievable and absolute devastation of an Arctic ecosystem which caused half of all life to die:
First, there was the biggest storm for 30 years. Next, temperatures shot up from -20oC to above freezing for 10 days. This ‘tricked’ the plants into thinking it was spring and so they burst their buds, and in the process losing their tolerance to cold conditions. When the temperatures inevitably fell again, the plants were encased in ice, which pierced their cells and drew all the moisture out.
Not only that, but there was then a devastating outbreak of a moth species which completely stripped the plants off all of their leaves. Finally, all the dead stuff on the floor acted as a fuel, and so when a fire was ignited, it spread rapidly and killed most of whatever was left.