NOAA-sponsored report details Arctic changes

Scientists note persistent warming and cascading effects on the environment

A new report on climate change in the Arctic speaks of record low sea ice, above average ocean temperatures and the impact of this on Arctic Ocean productivity.

The Arctic Report Card, now in its 11th year, was released on Dec. 13 at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The peer-reviewed report, compiled from the research of scientists from 11 nations, is a toll used around the world to track changes in the Arctic and their potential impact on communities, businesses and people.

“Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program. “While the science is becoming clearer, we need to improve and extend sustained observations of the Arctic that can inform sound decisions on environmental health and food security as well as emerging opportunities for commerce,” Mathis said in an address to the union membership.

Major findings in the 2016 report include warmer air temperatures, record low snow cover, a smaller Greenland ice sheet, record low sea ice, above average Arctic Ocean temperatures, and impacts on Arctic Ocean productivity.

“Springtime melting and retreating sea ice allowed for more sunlight to reach the upper layers of the ocean, stimulating widespread blooms of algae and other tiny marine plants that form the base of the marine food chain, another sign of the rapid changes occurring in a warming Arctic,” the report noted.

“Average annual air temperature over land areas was the highest in the observational record, representing a 6.3 degree Fahrenheit (3.5 degree Celsius) increase since 1900,” the report said. “Arctic temperatures continue to increase at double the rate of the global temperature increase.”

Spring snow cover set a record low in the North American Arctic, where the May snow cover extent fell below 1.5 million square miles for the first time since satellite observations began in 1967.

The 2016 report also includes scientific essays on carbon dioxide in the Arctic Ocean, on land and in the atmosphere, plus changes among small mammals.

The report notes that the Arctic Ocean is more vulnerable to ocean acidification than other oceanic areas, and that ocean acidification is expected to intensify in the Arctic. This will add more stress to marine fisheries, particularly those that need calcium carbonate to build shells, and will affect Arctic communities dependent on fish for food security, their livelihoods and culture.

Meanwhile, with twice as much organic carbon locked in the northern permafrost as is currently in the Earth’s atmosphere, the warming tundra is releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than it is taking up. If the permafrost melts and releases that carbon, it could have profound effects on weather and climate in the Arctic and the rest of the Earth, the report said.

More information on the Arctic Report Card is online at 

www.arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card

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