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  • Date Submitted: 05/20/2014 01:28 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 55.5 
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Rapid Arctic melting is only partly our fault
  * 18:20 07 May 2014 by Michael Slezak
  * For similar stories, visit the Climate Change Topic Guide

The rapid warming and melting of the Arctic is only half our fault. While our greenhouse gas emissions are clearly a factor, the record melts of the past few decades are partly the result of huge waves of warm air emanating from the Pacific Ocean.
The same region of the Pacific seems to be behind both the Arctic warming and the global warming "hiatus" of the last decade. That means we could be in for something unexpected: when global warming speeds up again, the melting of the Arctic might slow down, because both are partly controlled by the Pacific. If there is still some summer ice left when that happens, the Arctic could go another decade without a complete melt.
Qinghua Ding of the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues reanalysed temperature data from 1979 to 2012. They found the Arctic warming was strongest in Greenland and north-east Canada. Also, the warming is not limited to the surface but extends several kilometres up. It's unlikely that an increase in surface temperature could cause that.
Ding suspected the explanation lay in the tropical Pacific, where the surface waters have been unusually cool. That means there is less evaporation and less hot air rising, which in turn changes the pattern of wind and rain over the Pacific.
His team used climate models to simulate these changes, and found that they drove waves of high-altitude warm air into the Arctic. In effect, the cool surface waters in the Pacific have been warming Greenland, especially since the late 1990s.
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Controlling ocean
The results suggest that half the warming in the Arctic is down to greenhouse gases, but the rest – most of the rapid warming – is a result of odd but seemingly natural changes in the Pacific. In theory the shifts in the Pacific might be the result of...

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