Why Is the Arctic Warming So Much Faster Than the Antarctic?

Why Is the Arctic Warming So Much Faster Than the Antarctic?

I was asked this question the other day by a moderate climate skeptic and realized that while people may have read this fact in passing (generally called Arctic Amplification), the scientific reasons for it are not usually explained. The answer is fairly simple: it’s about geography.

The “top” of the planet is dark ocean – open water – while the “bottom” of the planet, Antarctica, is a continental land mass almost twice the size of the United States. The area around the North Pole is normally covered by sea ice, which reflects about 90% of the sun’s heat energy back into space. This reflectivity is called albedo.

The Arctic Ocean has lost about 40% of its ice in the past four decades.
However, as the disappearance of sea ice has accelerated in recent decades, there is less ice in the Arctic ocean and more black open water to suck in the sunlight. The dark water absorbs significantly more incoming solar energy, which causes faster warming of the water, which in turn melts more ice, which opens more water up.

Albedo Feedback Loop

This is one of the primary Climate Feedback Cycles. It feeds on itself and it affects global weather. As the sea ice disappears, currents and prevailing wind patterns are massively disrupted, causing more extreme weather and prolonged meteorological events such as droughts.

In Antarctica, the scenario is different. Although the interior glaciers are melting and the coastal ice shelves that hold them back are virtually collapsing, there are trillions of tons of reflective snow and ice sitting on a vast land mass. At the South Pole, only about 30% of the solar energy is absorbed, with the remained reflected back into space.

Hence the disparity in warming rates at the two opposite ends of the planet.

All ice is not equal: Visit this page for more details on how the different types of ice (shelf, land and sea) affect global warming.

The Southwestern MegaDrought Is Just Getting Warmed Up

Just because coronavirus is currently ravaging the planet doesn’t mean the climate emergency is taking a break.

The journal Science is reporting new research from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory confirming that the American Southwest is in the midst of a historical global warming-driven megadrought. The bad news is: this is likely only the beginning of something extreme and long term.

The report states clearly that the worsening situation is in part attributable to climate change, although that is not the sole factor. Yes, there have always been a natural drought cycle in this arid region, but the current variations are plotted well outside normal statistics. It is also the first megadrought to be triggered and exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change.

This emergent megadrought traces back to the beginning of this century, and growing intermittently yet persistently worse as time progresses. And, as is the case with most climate crisis events, the degree and consequences of the drought are aggravated by human activities. In particular, short-sighted water management policies have changed the face of the land in shocking ways. Rapid population growth has created pyrrhic water allocation choices among cities, agriculture, wildlife and extractive resource plundering operations such as fracking and mining..

During a particularly severe period of the current drought in 2015, about 12.5 million trees died in California forests. There is early evidence that Sequoia stands in California are showing the first signs ever of die off, after surviving thousands of years.

According to the research, this is the most recent and second most severe of several extreme megadroughts that have taken place over the past 1200 years. Since the generalized global warming that began about 150 years ago with the industrial revolution, the average temperature in this region has risen about 2°F. The higher temperatures combined with increased evaporation and early snowmelt all contribute to a potential rolling catastrophe that affects California, New Mexico, Oregon, Arizona, and Idaho.

Megadroughts are usually considered to be extreme dry conditions that last for at least two decades. However, the recent report cites mega drought events going back tens of thousands of years that have lasted hundreds of years.

The research suggests that the addition of high octane climate change into the mix could result in a disaster that may be irrevocable in its consequences for human civilization.