NOAA: Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet

Though longterm ice loss trends continued throughout much of the Arctic, many parts of the region experienced increased snowfall in 2017 and 2018. Photo by NASA/Nathan Kurtz

Dec. 13 (UPI) — NOAA issued its annual report card for the Arctic this week. Not surprisingly, the marks were poor.

Numerous studies have detailed climate change’s outsized impacts on the Arctic, and the latest report card echoed the scientific consensus. According to the report, surface air temperatures in the Arctic are warming at a rate twice as fast as warming across the rest of the planet, and the last twelve months were no exception.

“This year’s report shows that the Arctic region experienced the second-warmest air temperatures ever recorded,” researchers reported.

Warming trends caused a record low sea ice extent in the Bering Sea throughout 2017 and 2018, leading to a 500 percent increase in biological activity in some locations. The lack of ice, combined with elevated water and air temperatures, inspired an increase in algal blooms across the Arctic.

“As a result of atmosphere and ocean warming, the Arctic is no longer returning to the extensively frozen region of recent past decades,” researchers wrote in the report’s executive summary. “In 2018, Arctic sea ice remained younger, thinner and covered less area than in the past.”

But while longterm ice loss trends continued across the region, 2018 also saw portions of the Arctic gain mass. Melt rates across the Greenland Ice Sheet were less than previous years, and increased snowfall saw much of Greenland pack on ice mass. However, several ocean-terminating glaciers continued to shed ice at an accelerated clip.

Dozens of scientists with governments and research institutions in 12 different countries collaborated on the report card, compiling the findings from the latest research on the region.

In addition to updates on the region’s warming trends, the report card offered summaries of climate change’s impacts on plants and animals in the Arctic.

The Arctic’s prolonged growing season has fueled an increase in vegetation across much of — though not all of — the Arctic.

“The overall trend for the satellite record, 1982 to 2017, is one of general greening; however, there are certain regions that exhibit browning,” researchers summarized.

Greening trends haven’t necessarily proved a boon for the region’s mammals, however. The demise of polar bears has been well documented, but according to the latest report card, reindeer and caribou populations are also declining.

Over the last 20 years, the number of Arctic caribou and wild reindeer grazing in the Arctic has decreased by 56 percent.

Because climate change’s impacts are magnified in the Arctic, the region offers climate scientists the chance to better understand the way rising temperatures can alter ecosystems, weather patterns and a variety of other natural systems.

“The collective results reported in the 2018 Arctic Report Card show that the effects of persistent Arctic warming continue to mount,” researchers concluded. “Continued warming of the Arctic atmosphere and ocean are driving broad change in the environmental system in predicted and, also, unexpected ways.”


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