2°C Rise 8 Years Sooner: Arctic’s Role in Rapid Global Warming

Arctic Global Warming 2 °C

A new study by UCL researchers indicates that the Arctic’s rapid warming will lead to the global 2 °C temperature threshold being reached eight years earlier than expected. This finding, which highlights the significant impact of Arctic amplification on global climate targets, calls for increased monitoring and understanding of Arctic temperatures to refine global warming forecasts.

New research concludes that the faster warming of the Arctic will expedite the global 2 °C temperature increase by eight years, emphasizing the urgent need for better monitoring and understanding of Arctic climate dynamics.

Faster warming in the Arctic will be responsible for a global 2 °C temperature rise being reached eight years earlier than if the region was warming at the average global rate, according to a new modeling study led by UCL (University College London) researchers.

The Arctic is currently warming nearly four times faster than the global average rate. The new study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics, aimed to estimate the impact of this faster warming on how quickly the global temperature thresholds of 1.5 °C and 2 °C, set down in the Paris Agreement, are likely to be breached.

Comparing Climate Models

To do this, the research team created alternative climate change projections in which rapid Arctic warming was not occurring. They then compared temperatures in this hypothetical world with those of the “real-world” models and examined the timing with which the critical Paris Agreement thresholds of 1.5 °C and 2 °C were breached. They found that, in the models without fast Arctic warming, the thresholds were breached five and eight years later respectively, than their “real-world” projected dates of 2031 and 2051.

Polarstern Drifting in Arctic Sea Ice

German research ship Polarstern amid Arctic sea ice. Credit: Alfred-Wegener-Institut

In addition, they found that disproportionately fast Arctic warming, known as Arctic amplification, added disproportionate uncertainty to forecasts, as the variation in model projections for the region is larger than for the rest of the planet.

Global Significance and Need for Monitoring

Alistair Duffey (UCL Earth Sciences), a PhD candidate and lead author of the study, said: “Our study highlights the global importance of rapid Arctic warming by quantifying its large impact on when we are likely to breach critical climate thresholds. Arctic warming also adds substantial uncertainty to climate forecasts.”

“These findings underscore the need for more extensive monitoring of temperatures in the region, both in-situ and via satellites, and for a better understanding of the processes occurring there, which can be used to improve forecasts of global temperature rise.”

Direct Contributions and Local Impacts

The study does not attempt to quantify the ways in which Arctic warming affects the rest of the world, for instance through the retreat of sea ice which helps to keep the planet cool, but instead estimates the direct contribution of Arctic warming to global temperature increases.

3D Picture of Floe

3D picture of the floe based on highly resolved aerial imagery from the helicopter nadir camera. Credit: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Niels Fuchs

Co-author Professor Julienne Stroeve (UCL Earth Sciences, the University of Manitoba, Canada, and the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center) said: “While our study focuses on how Arctic warming affects global temperature change, the local impacts should not be overlooked. A 2 °C temperature rise globally would result in a 4 °C annual mean rise in the Arctic, and a 7 °C rise in winter, with profound consequences for local people and ecosystems.

“In addition, rapid warming in the Arctic has global consequences that we do not account for in this study, including sea level rise and the thawing of permafrost which leads to more carbon being released into the air.”

Overlooked Arctic Climate Change

Co-author Dr Robbie Mallett (University of Manitoba and Honorary Research Fellow at UCL Earth Sciences) said: “Arctic climate change is often overlooked by politicians because most of the region is outside national boundaries. Our study shows how much the Arctic impacts global targets like the Paris Agreement, and hopefully draws attention to the crisis that’s already unfolding in the region.”

Causes of Arctic Amplification

Arctic amplification, which is strongest in the winter months, is caused by several factors. One is the retreat of sea ice, meaning more sunlight (and heat) is absorbed by water instead of being reflected back into space. Another factor is less vertical mixing of air in the poles than in the tropics, which keeps warmer air close to the Earth’s surface.

Methodology and Uncertainty

For the study, researchers looked at an ensemble of 40 climate models that informed the UN’s 2021 climate change report.[1] These models divide Earth’s surface into a three-dimensional grid of cells, modeling physical processes occurring within each cell.

The research team modified the output of the models to create an alternative world in which rapid Arctic warming was not occurring, by setting the rate of change of temperature in the region north of 66° North equal to that of the rest of the planet. They looked at how the removal of rapid Arctic warming would affect temperature projections in a plausible intermediate emissions scenario and calculated the average temperature projection across all models.

In addition, they looked at how removing rapid Arctic warming from the models would affect more pessimistic or optimistic scenarios. For example, in a more optimistic scenario, where emissions are cut sharply and net zero is reached shortly after 2050, Arctic amplification causes a seven-year difference in the time of passing 1.5 °C.

Temperature projections for the Arctic varied more substantially between the models than for other parts of the globe, accounting for 15% of the uncertainty in projections, despite the region only making up 4% of the global surface area.

The 1.5 °C and 2 °C limits are regarded as having been breached when average global temperatures over a 20-year period are 1.5 °C or 2 °C higher than in pre-industrial times.

Paris Agreement Goals and Arctic Warming

The goal of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty, is to keep the global average temperature to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”

The Arctic is thought to have warmed by 2.7 °C since the pre-industrial era, and this warming is believed to have accelerated since the start of the 21st century.


  1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report.

Reference: “ESD Ideas: Arctic amplification’s contribution to breaches of the Paris Agreement” by Alistair Duffey, Robbie Mallett, Peter J. Irvine, Michel Tsamados and Julienne Stroeve, 14 November 2023, Earth System Dynamics.
DOI: 10.5194/esd-14-1165-2023

The study was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canada 150 Research Chairs Program.

3 Comments on "2°C Rise 8 Years Sooner: Arctic’s Role in Rapid Global Warming"

  1. “Faster warming in the Arctic will be responsible for a global 2 °C temperature rise being reached eight years earlier than if the region was warming at the average global rate, …”

    Arctic amplification has been discussed for years. The question that rarely gets asked is why the Arctic is warming, and yet western Antarctica isn’t?

    “Arctic amplification, which is strongest in the winter months, is caused by several factors. One is the retreat of sea ice, meaning more sunlight (and heat) is absorbed by water instead of being reflected back into space.”

    A major problem with this claim is that the Arctic (like Antarctica) is in darkness during half the Winter, nominally! There simply isn’t any direct sunlight to heat the water. Besides that, the Arctic is often overcast, even in the Summer, which is why the Vikings used a ‘Sunstone’ to locate the position of the sun, thus allowing them to navigate when the sun wasn’t visible. The sunlight reflected from the low clouds is comparable to that reflected from ice and old snow. Furthermore, water can have a specular reflectance greater than the albedo of ice and even fresh snow when the angle of incidence is high (low sun angle). In short, the impact of the loss of ice is overstated. When was the last time you read anything from these ‘experts’ that mentioned Fresnel’s Equations for calculating specular reflectance? They have probably never heard of it.


    • “…, and yet western Antarctica isn’t? A slip of the tongue, as it were. I should have said, “Why isn’t eastern Antarctica warming?”

  2. Yeah well…no concern about population growth? Then why bother? This is called whistling past the graveyard.

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