The planet’s climate is a finely tuned system and subject to what is known as the “butterfly effect” whereby a change in one region of the world can have consequences in another far distant one. According to an international team of scientists, an example of this is that the warming of the Arctic during the winter causes temperature anomalies thousands of kilometers away in East Asia, where vegetation could be stunted in its growth, flowering plants may bloom later and crop yields may decline.
“In recent days, the east coast of the United States has experienced heavy snowfall and low temperatures as far south as Florida. Warmer arctic winters are now also triggering extreme winter conditions in East Asia” , explains the team, whose members hail from Switzerland, South Korea, China, Japan and the United Kingdom.
At the same time, the colder southern winters reduce the activity of vegetation in the subtropics and affect ecosystems even in spring, while decreasing the agricultural productivity of cereals, fruits, tubers and legumes.
New study confirms Arctic theories
These are bold claims, but scientists combined Earth system models, satellite data and local observations for a new study that also looked at surface temperatures in the Barents-Kara Sea. What they found was that in years when Arctic temperatures were above average, changes in atmospheric circulation triggered freak weather events across East Asia.
In particularly cold years, vegetation growth has been stunted and crop yields have declined due to late flowering, they note. At the same time, East Asian vegetation has experienced a decline in its ability to absorb carbon, which has reduced its ability to store atmospheric CO2.
Above all, the research has highlighted just how complex the effects of climate change are, according to its authors.
“While we have observed a strong warming of the Arctic system, especially over the Barents-Kara Sea, we have now seen that this warming affects ecosystems thousands of kilometers away and for several weeks thanks to climate teleconnections”, explains Gabriela Schaepman-Strub, partner. Professor of Earth System Sciences at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
“Arctic warming not only threatens the polar bear, but it will affect us in many other ways,” he adds.
By Daniel T. Cross. Articles in English