The Arctic’s average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2016 was, by far, the highest since 1900. New monthly record high temperature records were recorded for January, February, October and November of this year.
Spring snow cover extent in the North American Arctic was the lowest ever in the satellite records, which began in 1967.
In the nearly four decades of Greenland Ice Sheet observations, only one year had an earlier onset of spring melting than this year.
The Arctic’s biodiversity is changing, radically, before our eyes, including a movement of sub-Arctic species northward and an increase in parasites.
These are just a few of the highlights from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recently released 2016 Arctic Report Card.
A Completely New Arctic Climate
Data from the report indicate that the Arctic is warming at double the global average temperature rate. The report shows that if this fall’s extreme warmth in the Arctic persists for another few years, it will likely signal a completely new climate for the region.
“We’ve seen a year in 2016 like we’ve never seen before … with clear acceleration of many global warming signals,” NOAA’s Arctic Research Program Director Jeremy Mathis told reporters at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week where the report was released.
“The Arctic was whispering change,” report coauthor Donald Perovich, who studies Arctic climate at Dartmouth, said. “Now it’s not whispering. It’s speaking, it’s shouting change, and the changes are large.”
The report showed that extremely warm Arctic air temperatures last January and February caused the smallest maximum winter sea ice extent on record. The previous record was hit in 2015.
Then, just last month, the return of extremely warm temperatures caused a period of retreating and melting ice during a time of year when the ice has typically grown extremely rapidly.
And as usual, the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) are extremely evident in Greenland.
“The Greenland Ice Sheet continued to lose mass in 2016,” Columbia University Earth Observatory climate researcher Marco Tedesco said. “The melt onset was the second earliest and the melt season was 30 to 40 days longer than average in the northeastern US.”
According to the report, Greenland’s spring snow cover extent reached new record lows. Meanwhile, the snow depth is also decreasing, leading to even earlier, as well as faster, melting of the ice.
Another ramification of the dramatic warming of the Arctic is that permafrost is now releasing more greenhouse gases, like methane, which is 100 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than CO2, during the winter. The report notes that this is happening now at a rate faster than that at which plants can absorb the gas during the summer, which means the Arctic has now become a net source of heat-trapping pollution.
It’s not just the ground that’s warming rapidly: Air temperatures across the Arctic have continued to soar past previous records. Between January and March 2016, temperatures blew away previous record highs, with some areas reporting records of more than 8 degrees Celsius above prior highs.
The report addresses how the melting of the Arctic is literally changing the path of the jet stream, which is what is likely going to lead to even more sustained extreme weather events across the entire Northern Hemisphere. One example is the so-called Polar Vortex that has been wracking the northeastern US in recent years — including right now.
University of Sheffield geographer Edward Hanna, who coauthored the report’s chapter on air surface temperatures, wrote about how the warming Arctic air temperatures are causing a trend towards younger, thinner Arctic sea ice, which means that its meltdown could well already be irreversible.
“It’s hard to see how the summer sea ice will survive,” Hanna concluded.
The election of Donald Trump could not have come at a worse time for the climate, as the Arctic meltdown intensifies and dramatic warning signs around the planet continue to escalate. President-elect Trump has stacked his cabinet with ACD deniers much like himself.
This week, the Trump transition team launched an “Energy Independence” website that underscores his intentions to open vast areas of the Arctic to fossil fuel development, as well as to scrap all existing climate action plans.
Rafe Pomerance, chair of Arctic 21 (a coalition of nongovernmental organizations concerned with climate change in the region), did not mince words about the actions of the Trump transition team.
“What kind of Arctic do we want to have?” he asked, speaking to InsideClimate News. “It has to be one that maintains the stability of the climate system. The melting of Greenland is going to put an enormous hit on real estate values. The fate of Greenland is the fate of Miami. It’s in the [US’s] national interest to stop Greenland’s ice sheet from melting. How are we going to bring it to a halt?”
Pomerance said that the Arctic ice does not care about politics, and that the 2016 Arctic Report Card stands in dramatic contrast to the Trump team’s intention to promote increased fossil fuel development in the Arctic, as well as around much of the rest of the world.
“This is a by-product of the poison of denialism, a political issue that has taken hold so deeply so that this is the kind of stuff that can be contemplated,” he said. “Evidence doesn’t mean anything, science doesn’t seem to mean anything. They ought to take what’s going on in the Arctic really seriously. This is a crisis. The Arctic is unravelling.”