Results of a comprehensive assessment of changes in the Arctic Cryosphere – Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) show rapid changes in major components of the Arctic Cryosphere, i.e. areas where water is frozen for at least part of the year. Information from the SWIPA assessment can be found in an extensive scientific report, several summaries and a series of short films.

Extensive project on cryospheric change

As a follow up to the 2004/2005 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) work, the Arctic Council in 2008 decided to undertake an assessment of recent changes in the Arctic Cryosphere and the effects of cryospheric change. The final SWIPA report was delivered by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) working group to the Nuuk Ministerial Meeting in May 2011.

The SWIPA assessment project involved more than 200 scientists and experts and was coordinated by AMAP in close cooperation with the International Arctic Science Committee, the World Climate Research Programme-Climate and Cryosphere and the International Arctic Social Sciences Association.

The SWIPA work synthesizes observations and research on recent changes in and across the components of the Arctic Cryosphere - the Greenland Ice Sheet, mountain glaciers and ice-caps, snow and permafrost, frozen lakes and rivers and sea ice. The assessment discusses potential effects of changes in a local, regional and global perspective.

Change more swift than predicted

The SWIPA assessment shows that in recent decades the Arctic has experienced the highest surface air temperatures since the period of instrumental records began there. Proxy-data show that current Arctic summer temperatures are higher than any time in the past 2000 years.

SWIPA documents accelerating changes in major components of the Arctic Cryosphere such as sea ice, arctic mountain glaciers and ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet and finds that predictions made in the ACIA (2005) and IPCC AR4 (2007) underestimate effects of climate change in the Arctic Cryosphere. There is now evidence of feedback mechanisms between the cryosphere and other parts of the climate system which enhance Arctic warming. Climate change in the Arctic is causing a change in the distribution of water in its solid and liquid state and the timing of phase shifts. This has profound effects on the physical, chemical and biological conditions in the Arctic and globally.

The findings of AMAP's SWIPA report underline that the speed, extent and gravity of local, regional and global effects of changes in the Arctic Cryosphere require global action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and for the development of adaptation strategies and plans to deal with effects of Arctic climate change.

SWIPA information in many formats

The SWIPA assessment has produced a fully-referenced peer-reviewed scientific report. Based on the scientific assessment an overview report and a shorter summary targeting a teenage audience have also been produced.

Findings from the SWIPA report were also published in a special edition of the journal AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, The Arctic Cryosphere: Changes and Impacts issue. This summarized some of the key chapters of the SWIPA report for the wider scientific community.

Furthermore, 3 films have been produced to communicate the project results. The films focus on the natural science aspects of cryospheric change in the Arctic, the Greenland Ice Sheet and effects on human society. The films are available in English, Danish, Faroese, Finnish, French, Greenlandic, Icelandic, Norwegian, Sami, Swedish and Russian.

All reports and films are available as electronic copies at www.amap.no/swipa

Hard copies of the material may be ordered from the AMAP secretariat.         


Text: AMAP. Photo: Front cover of the final SWIPA report