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Barents Sea Warming 

  • 18 Jun 2022
  • 10 min read

For Prelims: Barents Sea, Atlantification, Global Warming, Jet Streams

For Mains: Climate Change and Conservation

Why in News?

According to a study, it is stated that parts of the Arctic region near Norway are warming at as much as seven times the rate of warming in the rest of the world.

  • The region around the northern Barents Sea has been warming two to two-and-a-half times the average warming of the Arctic region and five to seven times the warming in the rest of the world.
  • Such intense warming has never been observed in the Arctic region before. This is leading to the phenomenon of Atlantification.

Where is Barents Sea?

What is Atlantification?

  • Scientists have discovered ‘hotspots’ where some parts of the Barents Sea have started to closely resemble the Atlantic. This phenomenon has been termed Atlantification.
  • The north-flowing ocean currents transport the warm waters of the Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean through the Barents Sea.
    • Unlike the Atlantic and Pacific, the upper waters of the Eurasian Arctic Ocean get warmer as they get deeper.
    • The top of the ocean is typically covered by sea ice. Below this is a layer of cool freshwater, followed by a deeper layer of warmer, saltier water delivered to the Arctic from the Atlantic by ocean currents.
  • According to NASA data, the total area covered by sea ice in this region has fallen by almost half since satellite records began in the early 1980s.
  • One possible reason for this is that, when sea ice melts through the summer, it replenishes the freshwater layer that sits above the warmer Atlantic layer. With less sea ice around, the amount of freshwater dwindles, this, in turn, causes the ocean to mix together, drawing more Atlantic heat up towards the surface. This “Atlantification” can, in turn, cause more ice to melt from below.
  • Human-caused global climate change has been accelerating the Atlantification process and this will in turn significantly affect the weather patterns, ocean circulations, and the entire Arctic ecosystem.

What will be the Consequences of the Warming?

  • More extreme weather:
    • The exceptional warming of the Arctic could lead to more extreme weather in North America, Europe and Asia.
    • The Arctic is the fastest warming region in the world with estimates ranging from two to four times the rate of warming in the rest of the world.
      • The reason for this is a closed loop of melting sea ice and faster warming.
  • Melting of More Ice:
    • As the Arctic region warms, the sea ice melts and exposes the ocean surface below. The surface absorbs more energy than sea ice would have and enhances the warming, making more sea ice melt, forming a feedback loop.
  • First Recorded Rainfall at Summit Station Greenland:
    • The rapid warming of the Arctic region has already thrown up weird weather such as the first recorded rainfall at the Summit Station of Greenland in August 2021 and back-to-back storms in July.
  • Increase in Lightning strikes:
    • Lightning strikes, which were once rare in the region, have increased by eight times in the last decade.
      • Storms and lightning strikes usually don’t form in the region as they need heat for the convection system to form.
      • But rapid warming is now making heat available.
  • Impact on Marine Ecosystem:
    • The warming of the region since the 1980s has resulted in the northward shift and increase in abundance of Atlantic fish species and a decrease in the abundance of Arctic fish species
  • Extreme Snowfall:
    • The warming of the Barents Sea also led to an extreme snowfall event, often dubbed as the ‘Beast from the East’, across most of Europe in 2018.
      • Around 140 gigatonnes of water evaporated from the Barents Sea and contributed 88% of the snow that fell across Europe during the event.
  • Extreme Weather Events:
    • The extreme weather events south of the Arctic are linked to the region’s warming through the Arctic jet stream.
      • The jet stream is a band of winds flowing on top of the Arctic region that usually keeps the cold Arctic air within the region.
    • But excessive and rapid warming is causing this jet stream to become wavier due to which, the cold air is interacting more frequently with the warm air from the lower latitudes, leading to extreme weather events.
    • In India the Arctic warming has been linked to the sweltering heatwaves in March, April, May and June across most of northwest, central and some parts of eastern India in 2022.
    • In 2018, the warming northern polar region had also been linked to the unusual and deadly dust storms that killed around 500 people across north India.

Way Forward

  • As Arctic Sea ice is a barometer for the health of the global environment, all countries need to support and commit to meaningful climate action such as COP 21 to reduce global temperature.

  • The Arctic Council should seriously focus more on dealing with issues such as global warming, melting sea ice, plastic pollution and black carbon.

  • Support companies and politicians who are leading the charge towards a new low-carbon future.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Q. The scientific view is that the increase in global temperature should not exceed 2°C above preindustrial level. If the global temperature increases beyond 3°C above the pre-industrial level, what can be its possible impact/impacts on the world? (2014)

  1. Terrestrial biosphere tends toward a net carbon source.
  2. Widespread coral mortality will occur.
  3. All the global wetlands will permanently disappear.
  4. Cultivation of cereals will not be possible anywhere in the world.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only
(b) 1 and 2 only
(c) 2, 3 and 4 only
(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Ans: (b)


  • Temperature rise above 3º C would lead to rising sea levels and loss of plant species. The Amazon rainforest, whose plants produce 10% of the world’s terrestrial photosynthesis, may turn to savannah as drought and mega-fires would destroy the rainforest, turning trees back into CO2 as they burn or rot and decompose.
  • The carbon released by the forest destruction will be joined by still more carbon from the world’s soils, together, boosting global temperatures by a further 1.5ºC. Hence, 1 is correct.
  • Increase in global temperature will result in mass coral bleaching and further, addition of CO2 into the ocean will reduce calcification rates and increase coral mortality. Hence, 2 is correct.
  • Wetland habitat responses to climate change and the implications for restoration will be realised differently on a regional and global level. Thus, it can be restored and will not disappear permanently. Hence, 3 is not correct.
  • Climate change affects the ecosystem that provides food, and therefore our security of food is linked to the security of those ecosystems.
    • Rising carbon dioxide concentrations – could increase production of some crops, such as rice, soybean and wheat due to increase in the rate of photosynthesis.
    • However, the changing climate would affect the length and quality of the growing season. Thus, the cultivation of cereals would see difference in production rather than being extinct. Hence, 4 is not correct.
  • Therefore, option (b) is the correct answer.

Source: DTE

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