New data has revealed extraordinary rates of global warming in the Arctic, up to seven times faster than the global average.

The warming is occurring in the northern Barents Sea, a region where rapidly rising temperatures are suspected of triggering an increase in extreme weather across North America, Europe and Asia. The researchers said the warming in this region was an “early warning” of what could happen in the rest of the Arctic.

The new figures show that average annual temperatures in the region are increasing throughout the year by up to 2.7°C per decade, with particularly high increases during the autumn months of up to 4°C per decade. This makes the North Barents Sea and its islands the fastest warming place on Earth.

In recent years, well above average temperatures have been recorded in the Arctic, with seasoned observers describing the situation as “crazy”, “strange” and “just plain shocking”. Some climate scientists have warned that unprecedented events could signal faster and more abrupt climate degradation.

The climate crisis was already known to be causing the Arctic to warm three times faster than the global average, but new research shows the situation is even more extreme in places.

Data from weather stations reveal extraordinary warming in parts of the Arctic

The pack ice reflects sunlight well but melts. This allows the darker ocean below to absorb more energy. The loss of sea ice also means it no longer limits the ability of warmer sea waters to warm Arctic air. The more ice is lost, the more heat builds up, forming a feedback loop.

“We expected to see strong warming, but not on the scale we found,” said Ketil Isaksen, senior researcher at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute who led the work. “We were all surprised. From what we know from every other vantage point on the globe, these are the highest warming rates we have observed so far.

“The larger message is that the feedback from sea ice melt is even higher than previously shown,” he said. “This is an early warning of what happens to the rest of the Arctic if this melting continues, and what is most likely to happen in the coming decades.” Scientists around the world said in April that immediate and deep cuts in carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases were needed to tackle the climate emergency.

“This study shows that even the best possible models have underestimated the rate of warming in the Barents Sea,” said Dr Ruth Mottram, a climatologist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, and not part of the team. “We seem to be seeing it shift to a new regime as it looks less Arctic and more North Atlantic. It’s really on the edge right now and sea ice seems unlikely to persist in this region longer.

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is based on data from automatic weather stations on the islands of Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. Until now, this had not gone through the standard quality control process and had not been made public.

The result was a high-quality set of surface air temperature measurements from 1981 to 2020. The researchers concluded: “The regional warming rate for the northern Barents Sea region is exceptional and corresponds to 2 to 2.5 times the Arctic warming averages and 5 to 7 times the global warming averages.

There was a very strong correlation over time between air temperature, sea ice loss, and ocean temperature. Isaksen said the rapid temperature increase would have a very big impact on ecosystems: “For example, here in Oslo we have a temperature increase of 0.4°C per decade and people are really feeling the disappearance winter snow conditions. But what is happening in the Far North is out of scale.

Isaksen said the new information on heating rates in the region will help other scientists’ research into how changes in the Arctic are affecting extreme weather in populated areas at lower latitudes. Rapid warming has been shown to alter the jet stream winds that circle the pole and influence extreme weather patterns.

“Sea ice loss and the warming of the Barents Sea in particular have been isolated in previous work as being particularly relevant to changes in winter atmospheric circulation related to extreme winter weather events,” said Professor Michael Mann. , from Pennsylvania State University, US. “If this mechanism is valid, and there is a debate about itso this is yet another way climate change could increase certain types of extreme weather events [and which] is not well captured by current models.