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Arctic now warmest in 2000 years, researchers say
Published in Saudi Press Agency on 03 - 09 - 2009


Climate-warming greenhouse
gas emissions pushed Arctic temperatures in the last decade to
the highest levels in at least 2,000 years, reversing a natural
cooling trend that should have lasted four more millennia, according to Reuters.
Carbon dioxide and other gases generated by human
activities overwhelmed a 21,000-year cycle linked to gradual
changes in Earth's orbit around the Sun, an international team
of researchers reported on Thursday in the journal Science.
"I think it really underscores how sensitive the Arctic is
to climate change ... and it's really the place where you can
see first what's happening to the (climate) system and how the
rest of the Earth will or might follow," David Schneider, a
co-author and a scientist with the U.S. National Center for
Atmospheric Research said in a telephone interview.
The big cool-down started about 7,000 years ago, and Arctic
temperatures bottomed out during the so-called "Little Ice Age"
that lasted from the 16th to the mid-19th centuries,
dove-tailing with the start of the Industrial Revolution.
This cooling trend was caused by a characteristic wobble in
Earth's orbit that very gradually pushed the Arctic away from
the Sun during the northern summer. Earth is now about 620,000
miles (1 million km) farther from the Sun in the Arctic summer
than it was 2000 years ago, said Darrell Kaufmann of Northern
Arizona University.
This cooling should have continued through the 20th and
21st centuries and beyond as the 21,000-year cycle played out.
This latest research confirms that it hasn't.
EARTH'S AIR CONDITIONER
"If it hadn't been for the increase in human-produced
greenhouse gases, summer temperatures in the Arctic should have
cooled gradually over the last century," Bette Otto-Bliesner, a
co-author from the National Center for Atmospheric Research,
said in a statement.
What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay there, since it is
among the world's biggest weathermakers, sometimes called
Earth's air-conditioner. As Arctic sea ice melts in summer, it
exposes the darker-colored ocean water, which absorbs sunlight
instead of reflecting it, accelerating the warming effect.
Arctic warming also affects land-based glaciers; if these
melt, they would contribute to a global rise in sea levels.
Warming in this area could also thaw frozen ground called
permafrost, sending methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into
the atmosphere.
Climate scientists have long known that Earth wobbles in
its orbit, which affects how much sunlight reaches the Arctic
in the summer. This is the first time a large-scale study has
tracked decade-by-decade changes in Arctic summer temperatures
this far back in time.
To figure this out, researchers looked at natural archives
of temperature -- tree rings, ice cores and lake sediments --
along with computer models, which tallied closely with the
natural record.
Average summer temperatures in the Arctic have increased by
about 3 degrees F (1.66 degrees C) from what they would have
been had the long-term cooling trend remained intact.


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