Home > climate change > NOAA says Arctic melt is rapidly increasing

NOAA says Arctic melt is rapidly increasing

A recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that Arctic sea ice is melting faster than ever.

The release of the Arctic Report Card follows a summer in which the extent of ice melt in the Arctic was the second most extensive on record, trailing only 2007. The past five summers have seen the five lowest extents of summer ice on record.

“This report, by a team of 121 scientists from around the globe, concludes that the Arctic region continues to warm, with less sea ice and greater green vegetation,” Monica Medina, principal deputy undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said.

Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein summarized the findings of the 121 scientists from around the world in a Dec. 2 article in the Anchorage Daily News:

– A NASA satellite found that 430 billion metric tons of ice melted in Greenland from 2010 to 2011, and the melting is accelerating. Since 2000, Greenland’s 39 widest glaciers shrunk by nearly 530 square miles, about the equivalent of 22 Manhattans.

– The past five years have had the five lowest summer sea ice levels on record. For two straight years, all three major passages through the Arctic have been open in the summer, which is unusual.

– Seven of 19 polar bear sub-populations are shrinking.

– This year’s temperature is roughly 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than what had been normal since 1980.

These changes, among others, led NOAA to state unequivocally in the report that

record-setting changes are occurring throughout the Arctic environmental system. Given the projection of continued global warming, it is very likely that major Arctic changes will continue in years to come, with increasing climatic, biological and social impacts.

Other indications of a warming Arctic include an increase in the near-surface average air temperature over the Arctic Ocean by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) in 2011 from the 1981-2010 base period, an increased rate of melting of Greenland’s western ice sheet,  and an increase in tundra vegetation.

The effect of global warming on Greenland has been particularly noticeable, according to the report, as measurements obtained via satellite indicate that the whole Greenland ice sheet during 2010-2011 “was the largest annual loss in the satellite record of 2002-present.”

The loss of summer sea ice means that Arctic sea waters are both warmer and less saline.

In the Bering Sea, acidification is resulting in a seasonal decline in the formation of calcium carbonate, which is the most significant component of the shells of marine organisms.

Reduction in sea ice has allowed the Northwest Passage, as well as the Northern Sea Route, to remain navigable into September.

Farther south, the warming of the Arctic is resulting in a changed wind pattern that brings more severe winter storms to eastern Canada and the eastern United States and northern Europe.

As more and more Arctic ice melts during the summer, the planet’s albedo, or ability to reflect the Sun’s heat back to space, is decreased.

As described by journalist Richard Black in a May 2007 BBC News article, the lowered albedo could have significant long-term consequences for the planet:

 The Arctic is intimately tied to the global climate system, and disruptions here have the potential to create worldwide changes – albeit over long timescales.

This graphic shows how the extent of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is expected to change by the 2050s. Courtesy NOAA

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