Annual report card rings the alarm on rising temperatures, melting ice in Arctic

A Polar Bear roams the Arctic ice in December 2015. Josh Anon/Solent News/REX/Shutterstock

A group of scientists are again sounding the alarm over diminishing sea ice and warming temperatures in the Arctic.

The annual ‘Arctic Report Card‘ issued Wednesday by the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contains some alarming facts that prove climate change in the far north is still progressing apace.

Overall, there was “unprecedented warming air temperature” in 2016 over the region, the report indicates, which contributed to a record-breaking delay in the freeze-up of sea ice during the fall.

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That delay, in turn, meant that the Greenland ice sheet and land-based snow cover were given extra time to melt.

“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,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program, in a release.

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The report’s authors also flagged another concern: the organic carbon currently locked in northern permafrost (soil, rock or sediment that is frozen for more than two consecutive years).

“If the permafrost melts and releases that carbon, it could have profound effects on weather and climate in the Arctic and the rest of the Earth,” the report notes.


Some of the other findings:

  • The average annual air temperature over Arctic land masses was the highest ever observed in 2016, and has increased a full 3.5 C since 1900. Arctic temperatures are increasing at double the rate of the overall global temperature.
  • Spring snow cover set a record low in the North American Arctic. In May, snow cover extent fell below four million square kilometers for the first time since satellite observations began in 1967.
  • The Greenland ice sheet continued to shrink this year, and the melt started earlier than in any other year except 2012.
  • The Arctic sea ice minimum extent from mid-October to late November was the lowest since the satellite record began in 1979. Arctic ice is also thinning, with less and less of it lasting for more than a year.
  • With less ice, more sunlight is reaching the upper layers of the ocean, stimulating huge blooms of algae and other tiny marine plants.
  • In August, the temperature at the surface of the Barents and Chukchi seas and off the east and west coasts of Greenland was 5 C above the average water temperature for 1982-2010.

The annual report card is a peer-reviewed document that brings together the work of 61 scientists from 11 nations who report on air, ocean, land and ecosystem changes.

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Canada’s Arctic makes up over 40 per cent of our country’s landmass.

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