On Tuesday, December 10, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual Arctic Report Card, and the results show that the region is undergoing a rapid transformation. Natural populations are declining, sea ice and permafrost are melting, which releases carbon, accelerating climate change.
This year's report highlighted some new points, including the impact of shifting wind patterns and how vulnerable Arctic indigenous people are.
The most striking sign of change in the Arctic is rising temperatures. The average temperature over the past 12 months ranked second highest since 1900, exceeding the norm by 1.9 ° C. This facilitates the melting of sea ice sheets, which are shrinking in thickness and extent. The fragile state of the ice makes it vulnerable to random weather events, such as when a jet stream brings warm southerly winds northward. This is exactly what happened in the fall of 2018, when warm southwestern winds prevented the freezing of sea ice along the coast of the Bering Sea. This happened again in the winter of 2019 and continued until spring. As scientists note, earlier such cases did not have much impact, because the ice cover at that time was already formed and thick enough.
As a result of the influx of warm air associated with the heat waves that hit Europe this year, the Greenland ice sheet has undergone massive summer melt. The only year with even greater melting was 2012.
In addition to the long-term threat of rising sea levels, the loss of sea ice in the Arctic is damaging the lifestyles of local communities that need stable ice cover to move and find food. In addition, due to the melting in the region, many indigenous families are forced to abandon the traditional way of storing food in ice basements.
This year, the report also warns of permafrost thawing, which is releasing carbon into the atmosphere at a faster rate than plants can absorb. Estimates of the amount of carbon emissions in the Arctic range from 300 to 600 million tons.