Ocean and climate scientists have been flocking to the Arctic to document changing ecosystems and species populations before the region as it has existed throughout human history ceases to exist. With the Arctic warming much faster than average, they are finding that potentially profound changes in ocean currents that have given rise to some of the richest fisheries in human history and modulated temperatures up and down the coasts of eastern North America and Western Europe are under way.
Speaking with a team of 40 scientists conducting a wide variety of Arctic Ocean data collection projects aboard the Canadian Coast Guard's CCGS Amundsen, an AFP reporter found the data being collected are adding to the body of evidence that shows rising atmospheric CO2 levels are inextricably linked to climate warming. Furthermore, the rate being experienced in the fossil-fuel era is faster than it has been in 80 million, perhaps 100 million, years of natural regional climate change.
Separately, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) found that global average atmospheric concentration of CO2 rose to 397.7 parts per million (ppm) in 2014 and surpassed the ¨symbolically important" 400ppm level this spring.
Rising CO2 fuels increase in water vapor, exacerbating warming
In addition, WMO determined that human exploitation of fossil fuels and other anthropogenic sources of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, including deforestation of land for agriculture, has increased the degree to which the climate has been warming 36 percent between 1990 and 2014.
Rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations are also adding to the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which, though they persist a far shorter time than CO2 – adds to climate warming, WMO highlighted in its latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. Furthermore, as the atmosphere warms, so does the capacity of air to absorb water, which is driving in a positive feedback loop that's being driven by rising levels of atmospheric CO2.
“Every year we report a new record in greenhouse gas concentrations,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud was quoted as saying. “Every year we say that time is running out. We have to act NOW to slash greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have a chance to keep the increase in temperatures to manageable levels.”
On the trail of Arctic Ocean warming effects
In addition to Arctic Ocean species, scientists aboard CCGS Amundsen are gathering and analyzing data on regional ocean currents. The data collected thus far lend support to the theory that melting polar ice caps are affecting ocean currents in ways that could have profound impacts on temperatures and civilization the world over.
Increased Arctic glacial melt may slow down or perhaps even extinguish the ¨oceanic conveyor belt¨ – the pattern of circulating ocean currents that have modulated and kept air temperatures up and down eastern North America and Western Europe warmer than they would otherwise be. The oceanic conveyor belt has been modulating temperatures conducive to the development of Western and world civilizations since the start of the current interglacial warm period some 15,000-20,000 years ago.
"If we continue this way, and that's what seems to be happening, we'll end up by the end of the century with rates we have not had since the days of the dinosaurs, the Mesozoic Age," when atmospheric CO2 levels reached 1,000 ppm, warned Roger Francois, a prominent oceanographer and professor at the University of British Columbia.
Perhaps we won't need to rely on genetic cloning to reincarnate the dinosaurs after all.
*Image credits: 1) WMO; 2) NASA Ocean in Motion