NOAA issues annual Arctic report card

NOAA’s annual report card on the Arctic, released on Tuesday, Nov. 8, notes that average annual land surface air temperature north of 60 degrees north for October 2019 through September 2020 was the second highest on record since at least 1900.

Record warm temperatures in the Eurasian Arctic were associated with extreme conditions in the ocean and on land, a panel of scientists said, while releasing the report at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C.

The report measures the changing climate of the polar region including warmer air and ocean temperatures and declines in sea ice that are driving shifts in animal habitats. The peer-reviewed report, now in its 13th year, provides an annual status update on the Arctic region and compares these observations to the long-term record.

Sea ice loss in the spring of 2020 was particularly early in the East Siberian Sea and Laptev Sea regions. The end of summer sea ice extent in 2020 was the second lowest in the 42-year satellite record, with 2020 being the record minimum year.

The report notes that the Pacific Arctic population size of bowhead whales has increased in the past 30 years likely due to increases in ocean primary production and northward movement of the zooplankton they feed on.

Meanwhile shifts in air temperatures, storminess, sea ice and ocean conditions have combined to increase coastal permafrost erosion rates in regions where a high proportion of Arctic residents live and industrial, commercial, tourist and military activities are expanding.

Glaciers and ice sheets outside of Greenland have continued a trend of significant ice loss, comminated largely by ice loss from Alaska and Arctic Canada.

The opening of the new NOAA Barrow Observatory near Utqiagvik has enabled the continuation of nearly half a century of atmosphere and terrestrial in situ observations, the report said. In addition, the unique Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) project concluded a historic, international, yearlong expedition into the Arctic ice pack in September, collecting a legacy dataset that aims to advance understanding, modeling and predicting of Arctic environmental change, the report said.