The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration has released its annual Arctic Report Card, assessing the state of the climate above 60º north, and region’s grades are not good: higher temperatures, lower snow and ice cover, and alarming biological activity marred the report’s findings.
“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,” explains Jeremy Mathis, NOAA’s Arctic Research Program director. “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.”
Highlights from the report include a new record high air temperature for 2016, and monthly high temperatures for January, February, October and November. The region saw an annual average temperature 3.5ºC (6.4ºF) above the 20th century norm. The earlier months of the year saw regional spikes of 8ºC (14.4ºF) above the norm, with January being a full 2ºC (3.6ºF) above the previous record holder of 3ºC (5.4ºF).
Arctic ice also did not fare very well: The average sea ice extent was the second lowest on record, tying with 2007, and only beat by 2012’s record low. The maximum ice extent, typically occurring in March, came in as the lowest on record, 7% below the 1981-2010 average. The Greenland ice sheet melt also came in as the second highest on record (beat by 2012 again), with the melting season extended by 30 to 40 days along the island’s west coast.
The retreat of the ice sheet, and the increase in sea surface temperatures (up to 5ºC warmer than average in August for some regions) allowed for increases in algal and phytoplankton blooms. Arctic shrews have also acquired new parasites that have been able to spread northward with the increasing warmth.
The report also warns that there is a net increase in carbon release from melting permafrost, including both carbon dioxide and methane greenhouse gases. While the increase in biological activity is acting as a new carbon sink for the region, that uptake is being massively offset by the outgasing from the melting permafrost. It is estimated that Arctic soil contains 1.33-1.58 trillion tons of organic carbon, about twice as much as what is currently found in the atmosphere.
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