CCI director speaks about abrupt Arctic climate change at Maine-Arctic Forum


CCI director speaks about abrupt Arctic climate change at Maine-Arctic Forum 

Paul Mayewski, director of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute (CCI), participated in the opening panel discussion of the Maine-Arctic Forum held in Portland on 10 . 3. The Maine-Arctic Forum coincided with the intergovernmental Senior Arctic Officials Meeting of the Arctic Council being held in Maine throughout the remainder of the week.

Paul Mayewski speaks at the Maine-Arctic Forum in Portland, Maine

The panel discussion, “Arctic Science: Ice Melt & Climate Change,” focused on the environmental and ecological changes associated with a warming Arctic and the policy required to address these issues at the national and international levels.

Attendees included scientists, governmental leaders, indigenous representatives, nongovernmental organizations and business stakeholders from around the world, including Sen. Angus King and Ambassador David Balton, chair of the Senior Arctic Officials.

Students and faculty from UMaine also attended the event and helped to highlight CCI’s many contributions to Arctic research. Arctic research, including that led by the students and faculty of UMaine, informs and contributes to the development of policies needed to address the environmental, economic, social and security concerns of a changing Arctic.

The arctic is changing at an unprecedented rate and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than the changes Arctic scientists are observing in the climate and environments of the region.

Mayewski, who has spent considerable time conducting research on the Greenland ice sheet, discussed sea ice melt and abrupt climate change in the Arctic and its potential effect on other parts of the northern hemisphere.

The Arctic is one of the most reactive regions to factors contributing to global climate change, including the widespread decline of Arctic sea ice. Summer sea ice extent has experienced a dramatic decline — as much as 50 percent over some regions — and lesser, but notable, decline in winter sea ice over the last 15 years said Mayewski.

Arctic sea ice and snow play an integral role in regulating solar radiation and ocean-atmosphere interaction in the high latitudes. The frozen bright white land and ocean surfaces of the Arctic reflect a large amount of solar radiation from our planet. However, as these surfaces disappear, much more solar heat is absorbed into the land and ocean. Additionally, heat energy stored in the ocean is released into the Arctic atmosphere when unimpeded by overlying sea ice.”

Both scenarios combined contribute to the abrupt and rapid warming of the Arctic.

Between 2007–12, temperatures in some areas of the Arctic have warmed up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit over the previous 20 years, said Mayewski, who likens this change to the one that might be experienced in Maine if the state’s summer season was doubled.

“The polar regions are now warmer than they have been in potentially 12,000 years — for that matter, 100,000 years,” said Mayewski.

A warmer Arctic will have a large impact on the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events in other parts of the northern hemisphere including Maine.

“There is without a doubt a clear and present local to regional scale change in the physical, chemical, biological and social components of the arctic and all of the abounding regions,” said Mayewski.

Panelist Paty Matrai, senior scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, discussed the ecological response of both land and sea flora and fauna to these abrupt environmental changes. Some ecological changes will provide new economic opportunities for stakeholders in Arctic nations.

The challenges involved with these changes demand the “need to bring all of these communities together to provide science based solutions, informed policy and public awareness” as we head into a new state of the Arctic, said Matrai.

Panelist Rafe Pomerance, chairperson of Arctic 21 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Polar Research Board, said that we are witnessing the “unraveling” of the overall condition of the Arctic as we have come to know it — the changes are striking and inevitable — and posed the questions, “what is the arctic we need to have?” and “how and when can we achieve that state?”

In many ways, these questions indirectly framed the following panel discussions held throughout the daylong event, which were focused around the topics of Arctic economy, shipping, policy, security, and safety.

“I have learned a great deal since becoming the Special Representative for the Arctic, but probably the most important lesson I have taken away is how vital science is to everything we do,” said Adm. Robert J. Papp, U.S. special representative for the Arctic, during a recent address before the Arctic Council meetings Maine. “Good science makes good policy.”