IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

15.1.1 Summary of knowledge assessed in the TAR

This chapter updates and extends the discussion of polar regions in the IPCC Working Group II, Third Assessment Report (TAR, Anisimov et al., 2001). That report summarised the climatic changes that have been observed in the polar regions over the 20th century, the impacts those changes have had on the environment, and the likely impact of projected climate change in the future. The following summarises the key findings of that assessment to which ‘very-high confidence’ or ‘high confidence’ was attached (see Figure 15.1 for overview and place names used in this chapter).

Figure 15.1

Figure 15.1. Location maps of the North and South polar regions, including place names used in the text. The topography of glaciated and non-glaciated terrain is shown by using different shading schemes. The polar fronts shown are intended to give an approximate location for the extent of cold, polar waters but are, in places, open to interpretation and fluctuations. (This and other maps were drawn by P. Fretwell, British Antarctic Survey.)

Key trends highlighted in the TAR

  • In the Arctic, during the 20th century, air temperatures over extensive land areas increased by up to 5°C; sea ice thinned and declined in extent; Atlantic water flowing into the Arctic Ocean warmed; and terrestrial permafrost and Eurasian spring snow decreased in extent.
  • There has been a marked warming in the Antarctic Peninsula over the last half-century. There has been no overall change in Antarctic sea-ice extent over the period 1973-1996.

Key regional projections highlighted in the TAR

  • Increased melting of Arctic glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet, but thickening of the Antarctic ice sheet due to increased precipitation, were projected.
  • Exposure of more bare ground and consequent changes in terrestrial biology on the Antarctic Peninsula were anticipated.
  • Substantial loss of sea ice at both poles was projected.
  • Reduction of permafrost area and extensive thickening of the active layer in the Arctic was expected to lead to altered landscapes and damage to infrastructure.
  • Climate change combined with other stresses was projected to affect human Arctic communities, with particularly disruptive impacts on indigenous peoples following traditional and subsistence lifestyles.
  • Economic costs and benefits were expected to vary among regions and communities.

Key polar drivers of global climate change identified in the TAR

  • Changes in albedo due to reduced sea-ice and snow extent were expected to cause additional heating of the surface and further reductions in ice/snow cover.

Awareness of such issues led to the preparation of a uniquely detailed assessment of the impacts of climate change in the Arctic (ACIA, 2005), which has been drawn upon heavily in the Arctic component of this chapter. There is no similarly detailed report for the Antarctic.