Arctic temperatures highest in recorded history

The Arctic is heating up, with air temperatures the hottest in 115 years. Air temperatures over the Arctic landscape were higher over the past year than at any other time since as far back as 1900, when records were first kept. The circumpolar north continues to change rapidly as the climate warms, increasing air and sea surface temperatures, decreasing sea ice extent and Greenland ice sheet mass, and changing behavior of fish and walrus are among key observations.

The Arctic region continues to warm at about twice the global pace

The 2015 Arctic Report Card, a project sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, details the state of weather, sea ice, snow cover and marine and wildlife habitat in the Arctic and subarctic, and how those have changed as the region continues to warm at about twice the global pace.

Their work, shared Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, confirms what scientists have been saying about the arctic for some time now — that it is experiencing rapid and dramatic change as a result of global warming.

“The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet, which has ramifications for global security, climate, commerce, and trade,” Rick Spinrad, chief scientist at the NOAA, told attendees of Tuesday’s meeting. “This year’s report shows the importance of international collaboration on sustained, long-term observing programs that provide insights to inform decisions by citizens, policymakers, and industry.”

This year’s Arctic Report Card, the 10th such annual report, was authored by 72 scientists from 11 nations. It comes days after governments of 196 nations reached an agreement in Paris to curb carbon dioxide emissions. The governments committed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and set a more ambitious goal of achieving a 1.5-degree limit.

Would accomplishing that arrest or reverse Arctic climate change? Not in the short term, said a coauthor of the Arctic Report Card.

“Unfortunately, we passed some critical points on that,” Jim Overland, a NOAA oceanographer, said at the news conference. “If the globe goes to 2-degree warming, we’re looking at a 4- or 5-degree warming for the winter in the Arctic by 2040, 2050. That’s based upon the CO2 that we’ve already put into the atmosphere and will be putting in for the next 20 years.”

However, actions taken now to curb emissions will likely pay off later, Overland said. “We do know that with a reasonable mitigation scenario, that will slow down and have a big effect in the second half of the century,” he said. “The next generation may see an ice-free summer but, hopefully, their descendants will see a return of more sea ice later in the century.”

As the report noted, the consequences of warming air and water temperatures are evident throughout the arctic. Earlier this year, scientists measured arctic glaciers retreating at record speeds.

This year, shrinkage more pronounced

Sea ice shrinkage was even more pronounced. Since 1979, scientists have been measuring the surface area and reach of sea ice at its peak in the winter and its minimum in the summer. This year its peak, or maximum sea ice extent, was the smallest on record, while its minimum was the fourth smallest.

Though Greenland’s ice sheet only lost a moderate amount of ice — the advance of its widest glaciers offset the retreat of many more smaller glaciers — the melting season grew longer by 40 day in the north half of the continent, and more than 50 percent of the continent’s glaciers shrunk.

All of these changes, NOAA scientists explained, are affecting wildlife and vegetation in the arctic. But not all of these changes are well understood.

The retreat of sea ice has allowed more sunlight to reach the upper layers of the Arctic Ocean in the spring time, spurring larger blooms of phytoplankton along the edges of the continental shelf. How this trend might effect food chains in the arctic is unclear.

Meanwhile, the trend of greening arctic tundra — witnessed over the previous few decades — has ceased in recent years. More recently, arctic tundra is exhibiting increased browning. Scientists aren’t sure why.

Animals are also struggling to adapt to the rapid changes. As waters warm, subarctic fish are increasingly being found farther north. Biologists worry the influx of predators could be bad news for smaller arctic fish, like juvenile cod, who seek shelter beneath glaciers while they mature.

Likewise, walruses are increasingly flummoxed by a lack of sea ice. The conditions are forcing them to travel farther for suitable hunting grounds and disrupting their normal mating habits. Overcrowding is also a concern, as the sea mammals have been observed rushing onto beaches by the thousands as previous icy haunts melt into the sea.

Overall, the outlook for the frozen top of the world is bleak, according to the annual Arctic Report Card: 2015 Update released by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Since the turn of the last century, it said, the Arctic’s air temperature has increased by more than 5 degrees due to global warming. Warmer air and sea temperatures melt ice that in turn expands oceans and causes sea-level rise, which scientists say presents a danger to cities along the entire Atlantic coast, from Miami to Washington to Boston. Walrus and other arctic mammals that give birth on ice sheets are struggling with the change, and fish such as cod and Greenland halibut are swimming north from fishermen and animals that feed on them in pursuit of colder waters, told the Washington Post.

According to a report from the UPI, Their work, shared Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, confirms what scientists have been saying about the arctic for some time now — that it is experiencing rapid and dramatic change as a result of global warming.

“The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet, which has ramifications for global security, climate, commerce, and trade,” Rick Spinrad, chief scientist at the NOAA, told attendees of Tuesday’s meeting. “This year’s report shows the importance of international collaboration on sustained, long-term observing programs that provide insights to inform decisions by citizens, policymakers, and industry.”

CBS News reported that, the new mark was noted in the annual Arctic Report Card, released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Arctic centers on the North Pole and reaches into North America and Eurasia.

“Warming is happening more than twice as fast in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world. We know this is due to climate change,” NOAA chief scientist Rick Spinrad told reporters in San Francisco at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

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