Things Are Heating Up In The Arctic

Things Are Heating Up In The Arctic

NOAA’s Annual Report Now Released


Earlier this week at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in Washington, D.C., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their 13th annual Arctic report and the results are concerning, to say the least.  This report follows the changes in climate across the polar region including specific information on air and ocean temperatures as well as sea-ice cover.  The Arctic is especially critical to monitor as the climate changes because impacts are magnified in this region.  Through comprehensive and consistent reports like NOAA’s, climate scientists have the chance to understand how rising temperatures in the air and the ocean will alter ecosystems and weather patterns.

NOAA’s Arctic report is always peer-reviewed and aims to provide annual status updates on the region that also contribute to long-term trends.  Working for governments and academia across 12 different nations, 81 scientists worked together to make this report possible.  In more recent years, these annual reports have been able to become more efficient and effective thanks to unmanned data-collection technologies involving devices that can record conditions in the Arctic 24/7 at low costs.  Although NOAA’s work is only one component to all the global Arctic monitoring programs in progress, their reports make some of the most influential contributions.

This year’s report shows the Arctic region has experienced the second-warmest air temperatures ever recorded as well as the second-lowest overall sea-ice coverage.  The Arctic has lost 95% of its oldest ice over the past three decades and the current ice is younger and thinner, making it more likely to melt during the Arctic summer.  Having less ice not only affects the animals living there (like the well-known polar bear), but it also impacts native residents and their ability to travel, hunt, and protect their coastline.  Other potential impacts to human life include severe weather patterns, the collapse of critical fisheries, and sea level rise affecting major coastal cities and real estate markets.

Multi-year changes in tundra greenness have also been monitored showing a gradual increase due to the prolonged growing seasons the Arctic is experiencing.  Interestingly enough, despite the Arctic becoming steadily greener, a decline in the number of caribous species has been documented. Over the past 20 years, Arctic caribou and wild reindeer grazing has decreased by 56%.  Also alarming is the multi-year analyses on the northward expansion of toxic algae as well as significant concentrations of microplastics being found.

So what is to be done with all this troubling news?  NOAA wishes for this report to inform the decisions of local, state, and federal leaders on how to move forward.  Retired Navy Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, Ph.D., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at NOAA, recently stated, “This report will also help guide NOAA’s priorities in better understanding the role of the Arctic in climate change and extreme weather; sustaining and growing fisheries; and supporting adaption and economic opportunities in the region.”  As the Arctic waters become increasingly ice-free, NOAA is also working to update nautical charts and calculate tide and current predictions.  Coincidentally, as NOAA’s annual report was released, the COP24 United Nations Climate Summit was concluding in Katowice, Poland where leaders continue to work on coordinating a global strategy to decrease carbon emissions.

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