A group of polar scientists recently met in New Orleans to share information and provide an update on the status of the Arctic.
Their prognosis was dire. The Arctic is often seen as the world’s archetypal freezer, but that is now a thing of the past. The entire region is now on a trajectory toward an ice-free state.
In releasing its annual report on the Arctic, Arctic Report Card 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made several very clear assessments.
The headline statement of the report states that the Arctic environmental system has reached a “‘new normal,’ characterized by long-term losses in the extent and thickness of sea ice cover, the extent and duration of the winter snow cover and the mass of ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic glaciers, and warming sea surface and permafrost temperatures.”
In its report, NOAA coined the term “New Arctic” to describe the region, as it is being changed so dramatically by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
The report also states unequivocally in a headline that, “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.”
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Highlights of the report include the fact that the average surface temperature for the year ending in September 2017 was the second warmest since 1900. Sea ice cover continues to be younger and thinner, with older, thicker sea ice comprising only 21 percent of the ice cover in 2017 as compared to 45 percent in 1985.
Also noted is the fact that during this past August, the sea surface temperatures in the Barents and Chukchi seas were up to 4°C warmer than average, which caused a delay in the autumn freeze-up across those regions. Meanwhile, Arctic permafrost is experiencing record-breaking warming.
“The unprecedented rate and global reach of Arctic change disproportionally affect the people of northern communities,” the report states, “further pressing the need to prepare for and adapt to the new Arctic.”
Several graphics are included in the report, and tell the story: For example, the last graphic shows Air Temperature Rank By Month, and each year, starting roughly in 2005, shows the vast majority of those months to be some of the warmest ever recorded.
In an interview with NPR, Jeremy Mathis, who directs NOAA’s Arctic Program, said “there is no normal” anymore. “The environment is changing so quickly in such a short amount of time that we can’t quite get a handle on what this new state is going to look like,” he said. “The rate of change is unprecedented in at least the last 1,500 years and probably going back even further than that. Not only are we seeing big changes, we’re seeing the pace of that change begin to increase.”
Given the NOAA report shows that in 2017 the Arctic experienced its second-warmest year on record, along with the smallest winter sea ice coverage on record, some Inuit people are using the word “uggianaqtuq” to describe what they are seeing. The word means “to behave strangely.”
And what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.
Research published in early December 2017 showed that the loss of Arctic sea ice causes climate shifts that have increased the severity of droughts in California, as well as shifting storm patterns across the Northern Pacific. The reduction in sea ice coverage has also disrupted the flow of energy toward the Arctic from the tropics, which has led to warmer-than-normal waters just north of the equator.
It is clear that planetary climate patterns are deeply disrupted, and NOAA’s report shows that this will only intensify as the Arctic region continues its meltdown.