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Key indicators of Arctic climate change: 1971–2017

  • Jason E. Box
  • William T. Colgan
  • Torben Christensen
  • Niels Martin Schmidt
  • Magnus Lund
  • Frans-Jan W. Parmentier
  • Ross Brown
  • Uma S. Bhatt
  • Eugénie S. Euskirchen
  • Vladimir E. Romanovsky
  • John E. Walsh
  • James E. Overland
  • Muyin Wang
  • Robert Corell
  • Walter N. Meier
  • Bert Wouters
  • Sebastian H. Mernild
  • Johanna Mård
  • Janet Pawlak
  • Morten Skovgaard Olsen
Publishing year: 2019-04-08
Language: English
Publication/Series: Environmental Research Letters
Volume: 14
Issue: 4
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: IOP Publishing

Abstract english

Key observational indicators of climate change in the Arctic, most spanning a 47 year period (1971–2017) demonstrate fundamental changes among nine key elements of the Arctic system. We find that, coherent with increasing air temperature, there is an intensification of the hydrological cycle, evident from increases in humidity, precipitation, river discharge, glacier equilibrium line altitude and land ice wastage. Downward trends continue in sea ice thickness (and extent) and spring snow cover extent and duration, while near-surface permafrost continues to warm. Several of the climate indicators exhibit a significant statistical correlation with air temperature or precipitation, reinforcing the notion that increasing air temperatures and precipitation are drivers of major changes in various components of the Arctic system. To progress beyond a presentation of the Arctic physical climate changes, we find a correspondence between air temperature and biophysical indicators such as tundra biomass and identify numerous biophysical disruptions with cascading effects throughout the trophic levels. These include: increased delivery of organic matter and nutrients to Arctic near‐coastal zones; condensed flowering and pollination plant species periods; timing mismatch between plant flowering and pollinators; increased plant vulnerability to insect disturbance; increased shrub biomass; increased ignition of wildfires; increased growing season CO2 uptake, with counterbalancing increases in shoulder season and winter CO2 emissions; increased carbon cycling, regulated by local hydrology and permafrost thaw; conversion between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; and shifting animal distribution and demographics. The Arctic biophysical system is now clearly trending away from its 20th Century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic. The indicator time series of this study are freely downloadable at


  • Climate Research
  • Arctic climate change
  • observational records
  • AMAP


  • ISSN: 1748-9326
Frans-Jan Parmentier
E-mail: frans-jan [dot] parmentier [at] nateko [dot] lu [dot] se

Associate professor

Dept of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science



Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science
Lund University
Sölvegatan 12
S-223 62 Lund

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