Hot as Barents!

Over the last ten years, the annual air temperature across the Barents Region has risen, in average, by one degree celsius.

Up or down the thermometer scale? When it comes to climate change, the Barents Region stands out from the rest of the world.


Temperature figures from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have drawn worldwide attention — the year 2014 was the warmest across the globe since the nineteenth century. The Barents Region was no exception to the rising air temperatures.

As previously reported, the average annual temperature in Norway was 2.2 degrees higher than normal. Also, Finland’s average annual temperature has risen faster than anywhere else in the world.

Patchwork Barents went beyond national climate statistics, mapping regional temperature trends across the Barents Region. The figure below presents a timeline of the last decade’s regional climate trend.

Over the last ten years, the annual air temperature across the Barents Region has risen, in average, by one degree celsius.

Västerbotten hottest so far
Northern Sweden has had the largest temperature increase in the Barents Region during the last decade. Between 2004 and 2014, the average annual air temperature went up 1.4 degrees celsius. The county of Västerbotten has had a particularly big jump. Just in the past four years, the average temperature has risen from 1.9 to 5.2 (+ 3.3) degrees in this region, the figure shows. 

The Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) explains the high temperature averages in recent years. There have been long periods of hot to very hot weather, and few periods of unusually cold weather across the country. Northern Sweden has been experiencing periods of dryness, and July 2014 became the hottest month registered in the region so far (over 30 degrees), the SMHI informs.  

In Northern Finland, the average annual air temperature increased by 1.2 degrees between the years 2004 and 2014. On the county level the rise was even bigger. For example, the temperature in Northern Ostrobothnia increased by 1.3 degrees.

For the five Barents subregions in Northwestern Russia, the average annual air temperature rise was also 1.3 degrees. However, the assembled data showed considerable variations between the subregions. For example, while Komi Republic has had a temperature increase of only 0.5 degrees in the period 2004-2014, the Republic of Karelia has had an increase of 2.7 degrees.

Decreasing averages in Northern Norway 
Over the last ten years, Northern Norway has had a relatively low temperature increase – an average of +0.1 degrees

Troms was the only sub region that actually became colder. The average air temperature in this county went down 0.5 degrees between 2004 and 2014.

In fact, there may be signs to a decreasing temperature trend in Troms since 1960. Historical data assembled from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute shows that, in 1960, the average annual air temperature registered at Tromsø Observation Site was 3.7 degrees, which was higher than in 2014 (3.5 degrees). 

Streams of plankton in the Barents Sea: Climate change causes a very rapid movement of species northward, experts inform.

Barents Region tops global temperature rise    
Climate experts assert that the changes in air temperature across the Barents Region are startling. In just one decade, the Barents Region has topped the global average temperature change of the last century.  

Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute Jan-Gunnar Winther in the Kara Sea.

“One degree in ten years is a very big increase,” says Jan-Gunnar Winther, Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, in a comment to the BarentsObserver. “In comparison, the global temperature has risen by 0.89 degrees in the last hundred years.” 

The fact that record-high temperatures have become more common lately is a feature worth noticing, adds Tuuli Ojala. She is Climate, Environment and Hot Spots Adviser at the International Barents Secretariat.

“This is probably explained by the climate change. More extreme (high) temperatures and warmer years are to be expected in the future. This may very well explain the 2014 figures for Västerbotten and Northern Ostrobothnia”, Ojala explains. 

Unclear how the ecosystem will stabilize
The effects of these changes are becoming more evident through the environment and ecology of the Barents Region. Increased air temperatures change vegetation and wildlife on land, something that is already noticeable in these areas.

Ojala refers to observation data from Finnish Lapland which shows that the snow-covered period has gotten shorter. Furthermore, the data shows that the areas of distribution of the cold-adapted bird species are shifting northwards.

“We must also be aware that the ocean temperature increases rapidly, causing the marine ecosystem to change in line with new climatic conditions”, Winther informs. “For most of us this is an invisible change. But present observation shows a very rapid movement of species northward, and it is unclear how the ecosystem in the north eventually will stabilize”. 

As previously reported, decreasing population of polar cod in the Barents Sea has reached a critical stage, which poses a threat to the stability of the Arctic ecosystem.

Does air temperature say it all?
Experts confirm that air temperature is a reliable indicator for measuring climate change. 

Tuuli Ojala is climate, environment and hot spots adviser at the International Barents Secretariat.

“There are long and really well-covered observations available for air temperature, which makes it easier to draw conclusions and make predictions for the future”, Ojala underlines. 

But there are other important indicators as well. In order to assess climate change and its effects, one must look at all the changes it encompasses, such as precipitation, cloud conditions, sea temperature, pressure and circulation in the atmosphere and ocean – factors that also transform with the climate change.

“It is also crucial to look at the changes in time and space”, Winther highlights. “Individual episodes – commonly referred to as weather – tend to camouflage the long-term trends”.

In this respect, a ten-year overview may not give the best assessment of climate change, compared to a fifty- or hundred-year assessment. Furthermore, climate comparisons between regions of smaller scale must be made carefully. “On lower geographical levels the variations can be big”, says Ojala.  

Patchwork Barents will continue to update regional climate data. See more visualizations here.