Air temperature in the Arctic was -19.25°C on 2023-03-23. This is 0.15°C higher than 90th percentile of climatology period... READ MORE
Air temperature in the Arctic was -19.28°C on 2023-03-22. This is 0.27°C higher than 90th percentile of climatology period... READ MORE
Today the final synthesis of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 6th Assessment Report cycle was released. This synthesis report restates that it is "now or never" to act, and that we are well on... READ MORE
Arctic sea ice has likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.62 million square kilometres (5.64 million square miles) on March 6, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at... READ MORE
Tropical cyclone Freddy is set to make more international records--including possibly one for the longest-lasting storm, later this... READ MORE
CO2 Budget Depletion
The North American continent has five out of the 20 countries identified as the most at risk of climate related disasters over the decade 2000-2019 (Global Climate Risk Index 2021).
Socio-economic impacts of climate change have a negative impact on people’s livelihoods and wider economies. Read more on our Socio Economic Indicators page.
As the Arctic snow and ice melts, the sun reflects less energy to space. This causes more radiation–and thus heat–to be absorbed, and consequently, temperatures around the world increase.
Global heating is not the only direction the temperature can swing as a result of a warming Arctic–extreme cold snaps are also possible.
An abnormally warm Arctic region is associated with a meandering jet stream. Waves in the jet stream can block weather systems that have led to prolonged heat domes and drought, both of which have contributed to particularly strong wildfire seasons in the western United States and Canada.
Meandering jet streams can also bring Arctic air to areas unaccustomed to icy weather.
For each degree (Celsius) that the planet warms, the atmosphere is able to hold 7% more moisture. This moisture, especially when combined with warmer oceans, leads to stronger tropical cyclones (IPCC AR6 WG1, 2021).
In addition to causing devastation through salt water intrusion and the flooding of low-lying terrain, sea level rise is another result of Arctic melt that can make storms more perilous.
Greenland, currently the world’s largest source of sea level rise, holds the potential for 7.4m of higher seas. 27cm of this rise is already irreversibly committed due to the destabilisation of the ice sheet (Box et al., 2022).
When salt water encroaches upon new territory, it can seep into fresh water reservoirs, dry crops and flood shallow lands. Higher seas increase storm surges and flooding associated with storms, thereby contributing heavily to economic losses and destruction.
During winter months, another ring of strong west winds encircles a pool of extremely cold air that sits over the high latitudes like a “spinning top” over the North Pole – this is the stratospheric polar vortex (Erdenesanaa, 2022). Occasionally this vortex can become disrupted and either elongated or broken into smaller swirls. When this happens, it can alter the behaviour of the jet stream, such as unusually large southward dips, bringing severe cold events to North America and/or Eurasia, sometimes simultaneously.
Recent research suggests these disruptions to the vortex are happening more often in connection with a rapidly warming and melting Arctic, which we know is a clear symptom of climate change. This means that cold spells may occur more frequently and trigger particularly long-lived events in regions unaccustomed to disruptive cold (Cohen et al., 2021), unless we can curtail our emissions of heat-trapping gases dramatically and quickly.
For example, the cold blast of February 2021 that brought Texas to a standstill saw temperatures 22.4°C below normal (Erdenesanaa, 2022). Temperature records were broken throughout the state, including lows in Austin (-14.4°C), Dallas (-13.3°C) and Houston (-12.2°C) (FERC, 2021). Beyond the extreme temperatures, Texas recorded nearly 150 deaths and more than US$20billion in damages (Henson, 2021).
On the link between Arctic warming and mid-latitude cold snaps: “The Texas cold blast of February 2021 is a poster child.”
-Dr Jennifer Francis, Woodwell Climate Research Center (Borenstein, 2021).
Such extreme winter weather events linked to stratospheric polar vortex disruptions – associated with Arctic change in sea ice and snow cover in fall – highlight the need for (innovations in) forecasting and early warning systems in local and regional disaster risk reduction efforts (Arctic Risk Briefing, 2021).
As in recent years, 2022 brought more drought and powerful wildfires to California and other western U.S. states.
Following a rainy autumn in 2021, January and February initiated the driest spring on record (Dress, 2022). By February, the cumulative drought over the past year throughout the southwestern region had been described as the worst in 1,200 years (Fountain, 2022).
Still on-going, the 2022 wildfire season, which began abnormally early in January with the Colorado Fire near Big Sur, has seen a higher number of fires than the average of the past five years. The lack of rain and snowmelt that typically hydrates the land and mitigates fire seasons has also led to water and food insecurity.
Currently, California is preparing for a hotter, drier future and one with fewer water stores and greater fires (California Water Supply Strategy, 2022).
“The heat spells another round of dangerous fire weather for California and much of the West, which has already smashed past previous records for burning; more than 5.8 million acres have gone up in flames already this year.” (Borunda, 2020).
“Five of the ten largest fires in California history are currently burning” (McKibben, 2020).
Like some other Caribbean islands, Barbados is formed largely from corals and limestone, which means it is naturally very permeable, and therefore, susceptible to water seepage.
As sea levels rise, this inherent permeability means that the country’s freshwater supply is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion (Mounsey, 2019). Already dealing with water insecurity, this intrusion further limits available water for drinking and irrigation, causing Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, to say, “I don’t call it climate change. It’s change for those who are not affected by the crisis. For us, it’s a crisis” (United Nations, 2021).
Water scarcity is not the only consequence of rising seas that Barbados experiences. Although not typically in the path of Caribbean hurricanes, Barbados faces storm surges and flooding from nearby hurricanes, both of which are worsened with rising seas.
Similarly, the Scotland district in the east of the country experiences regular landslides, the consequence of higher seas seeping into, and disintegrating the fragile rock. Rising seas, she notes, are “measured in lives and livelihoods,” and a 2°C warming would be a “death sentence” to her country (UN Climate Change, 2021).
The Caribbean and parts of North America are currently in the midst of the 2022 hurricane season, which saw Ian undergo rapid intensification from a tropical storm to a Category 4 storm over just a few days, leaving the western coast of Florida particularly unprepared for impact.
Across Cuba and the United States, damages exceeded US$67.2 billion. Just prior to Ian, the Fiona became the most northerly Category 4 Atlantic storm, bringing rain as far north as Greenland (Burg, 2022). Damage ranged from country-wide blackouts in Puerto Rico and water supply issues that left 400,000 without power (OCHA, 2022) to widespread outages throughout the Canadian maritimes (NPR, 2022).
Other devastating hurricanes to strike the Caribbean in recent years include Matthew (Category 4, 2016), Maria (Category 5, 2017), and Dorian (Category 5, 2019).
Maria became the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico and caused island-wide blackouts and 4,600 deaths (Washington Post, 2018). After 7 months, 62,000 people on the island remained without power (World Vision, 2018a).
Matthew dramatically impacted Haiti with 546 estimated fatalities (World Vision, 2018b), 175,000 displaced individuals and 330,000 children out of school (OCHA, 2016) – its damages paralleled the 2010 earthquake. In addition to the effects of the hurricane, the island experienced food insecurity and rising cholera rates (Ibid.).
Cumulatively, US$27 billion was recorded in damages and losses in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean between 2000-2017 (LaCorbiniere, 2022). Projected damages from inland flooding due to tropical storms, storm surges, and winds could reach 9% of regional GDP by 2030 (Ibid.).
The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.