NOAA’s 2012 Arctic ‘Report Card’ … Danger Signs Ahead

It’s a year of broken records on sea and land ice melting, Arctic temperature, and more, report NOAA researchers … and a word of caution: ‘What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.’

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Dec. 5, 2012 — NOAA’s just-released 2012 Arctic Report Card, released during the AGU Fall meeting and reflecting the work of 141 scientists from 50 nations, documents continuing troubling trends in air temperatures, rapid loss of ice sheet, and loss of overall ice volume.

“A self-enforcing feedback” with the likelihood of leading to more of the same, Ohio State University climate scientist Jason E. Box said, calling 2012 “an astonishing year.” Box said the summer of 2012 in the Arctic was the warmest in 170 years of recordkeeping. The loss of Greenland ice sheet is accelerating, he said, and also surface ice melting, ice area loss, and volume.

“The duration of melting ice was the largest in the period of observations since 1979,” he said

Loss of the spring snow cover exposes darker, less-reflective surface earlier to solar radiation, Arctic researchers told a press conference. That declining reflectivity applies not just to land, but also to the Arctic Ocean, where sea ice melt is also exposing darker water surfaces.

Researcher Donald Petrovich said that between March and September 2012, the declines were the greatest since measurements have been taken. Over the past six years, the Arctic experienced the six smallest ice extents since satellite observations began in 1979. It all amounts to “a new state of reduced Arctic sea ice coverage,” Petrovich said.

In addition to record high temperatures over land and sea, 2012 brought record temperatures at 60 feet below surface, affecting permafrost. One victim: Rodent lemmings, the decline of which poses challenges to the Arctic Fox. (They’re victimized also by the increasing numbers migrating northward, presenting challenges of predation and competition for food resources.)

‘Systemic Changes’ … Leading to ‘A New State’

The current state of the Arctic points to “strong evidence of systemic changes … to a new state,” the researchers cautioned. With bright white snow and ice being replaced by darker surfaces over seas and land — a positive self-reinforcing feedback, helps explain why Arctic is warming two times faster than lower latitudes.

Unfortunately, and unlike with Las Vegas commercials, what happens in the Arctic does not necessarily stay in the Arctic. The profound changes in Arctic marine and ecological ecosystems, including longer open-water seasons, have significant adverse global implications for the Arctic as the planet’s “global thermometer.”

“If we’re not already there, we’re surely on the verge of seeing a new Arctic,” advised researcher Martin Jeffries of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. He pointed to increasing risks to what he called “global environmental and socio-economic” resources and equated the ongoing CO2 experiment in the Arctic as being akin to what happens when a shade-tree mechanic works on auto maintenance … you never know just what you’re going to get at the end of the experiment.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of The Yale Forum (E-mail: bud@yaleclimatemediaforum.org).
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