The Arctic continues to show signs of a warmer, greener state.
Although the Arctic caught a break this year with a chilly summer, the region “continues to show evidence of a shift to new warmer, greener state” because of climate change, according to the annual Arctic Report Card issued recently by federal scientists.
“The relatively cool year in some parts of the Arctic does little to offset the long-term trend of the last 30 years,” said David M. Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently.
The report card was issued during a briefing at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
One of the most obvious signs of global warming in the Arctic is shrinking summer sea ice. Although this year’s ice extent wasn’t as low as last year’s all-time record low, it was still the sixth-lowest since observations began in 1979, despite the relatively cool 2013 summer.
The sea ice in question is frozen ocean water that melts each summer, then refreezes each winter. It typically reaches its smallest “extent” in September and largest “extent” in March of each year.
Overall, the seven lowest minimum ice extents have all occurred in the past seven years (2007-2013).
“The Arctic Report Card presents strong evidence of widespread, sustained changes that are driving the Arctic environmental system into a new state, and we can expect to see continued widespread and sustained change in the Arctic,” said Martin Jeffries, editor of the report card and a University of Alaska geophysicist.
“Every aspect of Arctic life has the potential to be affected by these changes”, said Kennedy, deputy undersecretary for operations at NOAA.
Other climate and weather highlights from the Arctic in 2013:
•The summer in Alaska was unusually warm. The state had its second-warmest summer on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Fairbanks, just below the Arctic Circle, experienced a record 36 days of more than 80 degrees.
•Snow cover in May and June was near record low levels in the North American Arctic and broke a record for the least snow in Eurasia’s Arctic.
•Sea surface temperatures in August were as much as 7 degrees higher than the long-term average in the Barents and Kara Seas, which can be attributed to an early retreat of sea ice cover and increased solar heating.
More generally in the Arctic, fish species are moving north, permafrost is melting, and shrubs are greening in ways that weren’t seen before, which could lead to more wildfires.
It’s not necessarily all bad news, as year-round shipping operations in the Arctic (even in winter, since sea ice will be thinner) will be possible, Jeffries said.
“There will be new commercial opportunities with the changing Arctic (such as cruises, mining, drilling and new shipping lanes),” he said, “but we need to be prepared for these new activities to proceed without hazard”.
University of Virginia environmental scientist Howard Epstein warned that changes in the Arctic are felt around the globe. “The Arctic is not like Vegas,” he said. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic”.
NOAA began producing the annual state of the Arctic report in 2006. This year’s report was compiled by 147 authors from 14 countries.
Source | Associated Press