The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its 2015–2016 Arctic Report Card, providing specific data points to go along with the very weird weather of the last year.
So what are the “highlights” of the report? The year ending September 2016 saw:
- the highest (by far) average surface air temperatures in the region since at least 1900 (a 6.3° Fahrenheit increase since then);
- new monthly record highs occurred in January, February, October, and November 2016;
- the minimum sea ice extent at the end of summer 2016 was tied for the second lowest on record;
- spring snow cover extent in the North American Arctic was the lowest on record;
- and, in Greenland, spring melting occurred earlier than any other year on record except for one.
The report noted: “Observations in 2016 showed a continuation of long-term Arctic warming trends which reveals the interdependency of physical and biological Arctic systems, contributing to a growing recognition that the Arctic is an integral part of the globe, and increasing the need for comprehensive communication of Arctic change to diverse user audiences.”
With sea ice extent and snow cover diminishing, the Arctic has seemingly gotten stuck in a set of feedback loops that will only see temperatures in the region rise at ever fast rates for the foreseeable future. This is especially important to make note of as the general warming of the Arctic region will increase the speed at which the Greenland ice sheet melts — and, once that melts, many of the seaports and coastal cities of the world will be inundated — whether relatively slowly or, more likely, as part of a rapid sea level rise pulse, which have been relatively common during the melting of various ice sheets over the last tens of millennia.
Another thing to note, as the report says: “The Arctic Ocean is especially prone to ocean acidification, due to water temperatures that are colder than those further south. The short Arctic food chain leaves Arctic marine ecosystems vulnerable to ocean acidification events.”
This is important because the collapse of fisheries in the Arctic will have a profoundly negative effect on various Arctic countries, and those dependent on these countries for imported seafood. Of course, this is just one of a great many problems now set to come to a head over the coming decades and centuries.
The director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program, Jeremy Mathis, stated: “The pace of change that’s happening in the Arctic … is truly unprecedented.”
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