New study shows key indicators of Arctic climate change

Published 08-04-2019

A new study of the Arctic identifies nine key elements of the Arctic system, which are changing fundamentally due to climate change. The study, by design, is novel in joining a physical climate assessment with biological impacts.

Qalerallit glacier

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, combines numerous Arctic observational records from 1971-2017 showing how climate change causes fundamental changes among nine key elements of the Arctic system; air temperature, permafrost, hydroclimatology, snow cover, sea ice, land ice, wildfires, tundra and terrestrial ecosystems and carbon cycling.

The findings of the study show a correspondence between air temperature and biophysical indicators such as tundra biomass and identify numerous biophysical disruptions – e.g. increased ignition of wildfires, timing mismatches between plant flowering and pollinators, and increased plant vulnerability to insect disturbance.

The Arctic system is trending away from its 20th Century state

 “Several of the climate indicators exhibit a statistical correlation with air temperature or precipitation. This reinforces the notion that increasing air temperatures and precipitation are drivers of major changes in the Arctic system,” says Jason Box, research professor at GEUS and one of the authors behind the new study.

According to Jason Box, the Arctic biophysical system is now clearly trending away from its 20th Century state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic:

“Because the Arctic atmosphere is warming faster than the rest of the world, weather patterns across Europe, North America, and Asia are becoming more persistent, leading to extreme weather conditions. Another example is the disruption of the ocean circulation that can further destabilise climate - for example cooling across north-western Europe and strengthening of storms,” says Jason Box.

The authors behind the study hope that these indicator-based observations could provide a foundation for the research that is needed to address the gaps in knowledge and to support a more integrated understanding of the Arctic region and its role in the global dynamics of the Earth’s biogeophysical systems. 

Key indicators of arctic climate change


The study is in support of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP). Financing for this study is primarily by DANCEA (Danish Cooperation for Environment in the Arctic) under the Danish Ministry of Energy, Utilities and Climate.

Read about AMAP

Jason Eric Box
Research Professor
Glaciology and Climate