1.3 Projected trends in temperature and precipitation in the Arctic

Last Updated: 
June 2, 2015

This indicator reports on projected changes in Arctic temperature and precipitation based on climate change models.

This information is summarized from the Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change - Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basis published by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Early spring and incoming weather
Early spring and incoming weather

NWT focus

Changes in global climate can differ in different parts of the world. This indicator provides more detailed observations and predictions on climate changes directly affecting the environment in the NWT.

Current view: status and trend

Quotes from the Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change - Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basis Global Chapter 11, p.887:

"(Winters) …are likely to (get warmer)… in northern North America."

"Snow season length and snow depth are very likely to decrease in most of North America, except in the northernmost part of Canada where maximum snow depth is likely to increase."

"The uncertainties in regional climate changes over North America are strongly linked to the ability of (climate models) to reproduce the dynamical features affecting the region … Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models exhibit large model-to-model differences in ENSO and NAO/Arctic Oscillation (AO) responses to climate changes. Changes in the Atlantic … are uncertain, and thus so is the magnitude of consequent reduced warming in the extreme north-eastern part of North America; cooling here cannot be totally excluded. The Hudson Bay and Canadian Archipelago are poorly resolved by (climate models), contributing to uncertainty in ocean circulation and sea ice changes and their influence on the climate of northern regions."

Temperature anomalies with respect to 1901 to 1950 for the whole Arctic for 1906 to 2005 (black line) as simulated (red envelope) by MMD models incorporating known forcings; and as projected for 2001 to 2100 by MMD models for the A1B scenario (orange envelope). The black line is dashed where observations are present for less than 50% of the area in the decade concerned. Source: courtesy of: IPCC WG1 AR4 Report Fig 11.18. ARC = Arctic

Changes in surface air temperature (°C, left), precipitation (mm day–1, right) ... for winter (DJF, top) and summer (JJA, bottom) predicted by climate change models for 2080-2099 relative to 1980-1999. Stippling denotes areas of uncertainty in the models. The largest increase is predicted for the Arctic, where winters will be more than 7.5°C warmer on average in 100 years. Source: courtesy of: IPCC WG1 AR4 Report Fig. 10.9. Partial.

Quote from the Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change - Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basiss Global Chapter 11, p.892:

“The ensemble mean of the … models projects a general decrease in snow depth …as a result of delayed autumn snowfall and earlier spring snowmelt. In some regions where winter precipitation is projected to increase, the increased snowfall can more than make up for the shorter snow season and yield increased snow accumulation. Snow depth increases are projected by some (climate change models) over some land around the Arctic Ocean … and by some (regional climate models) in the northernmost part of the Northwest Territories (Figure 11.13).”

Percent snow depth changes in March, NWT
Percent snow depth changes in March (only calculated where climatological snow amounts exceed 5 mm of water equivalent), as projected by the Canadian Regional Climate Model (CRCM; Plummer et al., 2006), driven by the Canadian General Circulation Model (CGCM), for 2041 to 2070 under SRES A2 compared to 1961 to 1990. Source: courtesy of: IPCC WG1 AR4 Report Fig 11.13

Looking forward

Quotes from the Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change - Climate Change 2007 - The Physical Science Basis Global Chapter 11:

“The Arctic is very likely to warm during this century more than the global mean. Warming is projected to be largest in winter and smallest in summer. Annual arctic precipitation is very likely to increase. It is very likely that the relative precipitation increase will be largest in winter and smallest in summer.”

“Interannual variability over North America is connected to two large-scale oscillation patterns, ENSO and the NAO/AO. The … model projections indicate (more intense) polar vortex and many models project a decrease in the arctic surface pressure, which contributes to an increase in the AO/NAO index ; the uncertainty is large, however, due to the diverse responses of (climate models)… The …model projections indicate a shift towards (more) El-Niño like conditions. There is a wide range of behaviour among the current models, with no clear indication of possible changes in the amplitude or period of El Niño.” (see Focal point NATURAL CLIMATE FLUCTUATIONS for definitions of ENSO, NAO/AO and El Niño).

Quotes on key findings from authors of the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Policy Document:

"The Arctic climate is now warming rapidly and much larger changes are projected."Arctic warming and its consequences have worldwide implications."

"Arctic vegetation zones are projected to shift, bringing wide-ranging impacts."

"Animal species' diversity, ranges, and distribution will change."

"Many coastal communities and facilities face increasing exposure to storms."

"Reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources."

"Thawing ground will disrupt transportation, buildings, and other infrastructure."

"Indigenous communities are facing major economic and cultural impacts."

"Elevated ultraviolet radiation levels will affect people, plants, and animals."

"Multiple influences interact to cause impacts to people and ecosystems."

These predicted impacts can be tracked using indicators described in the relevant focal points of the State of the Environment report.

For more information

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Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca.