Climate change strips Arctic of much snow cover

May 5th, 2011 - 4:00 pm ICT by IANS  

London, May 5 (IANS) Climate change is showing its ugly hand in the Arctic — a much reduced snow cover, shorter winters and thawing tundra.

And the changes are taking place significantly faster than previously thought, says new research from Lund University, Sweden.

Margareta Johansson, from Lund, who co-authored the study with Terry Callaghan of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, says: “The changes we see are dramatic. And they are not coincidental.”

Between 2003 and 2008, the melting of the Arctic icecap accounted for 40 percent of the global rise in sea level, according to a Lund statement.

The Arctic is one of global parts that is warming up fastest today. Measurements of air temperature show that the most recent five-year period has been the warmest since 1880, when monitoring began.

Other data, from tree rings among other things, show that the summer temperatures over the last decades have been the highest in 2000 years. As a consequence, the snow cover in May and June has decreased by close to 20 percent.

The winter season has also become almost two weeks shorter - in just a few decades.

Besides, the temperature in the permafrost has increased by between half a degree and two degrees.

“There is no indication that the permafrost will not continue to thaw,” says Johansson. Large quantities of carbon are stored in the permafrost.

“Our data shows that there is significantly more than previously thought. There is approximately double the amount of carbon in the permafrost as there is in the atmosphere today,” says Johansson.

The carbon comes from organic material which was “deep frozen” in the ground during the last ice age. As long as the ground is frozen, the carbon remains stable.

But as the permafrost thaws there is a risk that CO2 and methane, a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, will be released that could increase global warming.

The report was presented in Copenhagen this week.

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