Arctic Report Card Details Big Changes

"The Arctic is an extremely sensitive part of the world and with the warming scientists have observed, we see the results with less snow and sea ice, greater ice sheet melt, and changing vegetation," NOAA's administrator said.

NOAA has released its annual Arctic Report Card, and it documents major changes occurring in that region. It continued to break records in 2012, including for the loss of summer sea ice, spring snow cover, and melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

"The Arctic is changing in both predictable and unpredictable ways, so we must expect surprises," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, during a press briefing at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco. "The Arctic is an extremely sensitive part of the world and with the warming scientists have observed, we see the results with less snow and sea ice, greater ice sheet melt and changing vegetation."

According to NOAA, 141 authors from 15 countries contributed to the peer-reviewed report. Major findings of the report include:

  • A new record low snow cover for the Northern Hemisphere was set in June 2012, and a new record low was reached in May over Eurasia.
  • Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September 2012 set a new all-time record low.
  • There was a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event on the Greenland ice sheet in July, covering about 97 percent of the ice sheet on a single day.
  • The tundra is getting greener, and there is more above-ground growth. During 2003-2010, the length of the growing season increased through much of the Arctic.
  • In northernmost Europe, the Arctic fox is close to extinction and vulnerable to the encroaching Red fox. Additionally, recent measurements of massive phytoplankton blooms below the summer sea ice suggest earlier estimates of biological production at the bottom of the marine food chain may have been 10 times lower than was actually occurring.
  • Sea surface temperatures in summer continue to be warmer than the long-term average at the growing ice-free margins, while upper ocean temperature and salinity show significant inter-annual variability, with no clear trends.

"Popular perceptions of the Arctic as a distant, icy, cold place that has little relevance to those outside the region are being challenged," said Martin Jeffries, co-editor of the 2012 Report Card and Arctic science adviser, Office of Naval Research and research professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. "As snow and ice retreat, the marine and terrestrial ecosystems respond, and talk of increased tourism, natural resource exploitation, and marine transportation grows. The Arctic Report Card does a great service in charting the many physical and biological changes."

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