“We’ve known that the last few decades have been very warm. But we’ve found that temperatures are on the order of two degrees Celsius warmer than any time in the last 10,000 years — that was a surprise,” Duane Froese, professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science, and Canada Research Chair in Northern Environmental Change, said in a Wednesday release.
Froese, co-author of the study, said the resulting rise in permafrost thaw across the Arctic is destabilizing soil carbon, which may further accelerate warming.
The study found that previous record highs occurred during the early Holocene period — around 9,900 and 6,400 years ago. But even without the unique circumstances of that period, when the Earth’s axis was more strongly directed toward the sun, current Arctic temperatures have exceeded those records.
“All indications from this new study are that temperatures and the impacts of recent warming are only picking up and getting stronger,” said Froese. “We are moving into uncharted waters with respect to climate change in the North.”
The rising temperatures have had implications across northern Canada already, with another recent U of A study reporting record levels of mercury released by thawing permafrost.
“The impacts of warming across the North are being felt at an alarming rate and this study provides further evidence that we are well beyond anything our planet has known in the last 10,000 years,” said Froese. “Clearly, we need to come to terms with the impacts of these warmer temperatures and consequences for northern communities, infrastructure and lifestyles.”