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Arctic saw second warmest year in 2017

December 15th, 2017 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

While it might not be news to anyone living in the Arctic, a study released this week shows the warming trend in the Arctic persisted in 2017, with ocean and air temperatures topping all but 2016 records.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday that data released in the Arctic Report Card indicated that the Arctic "shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region it was decades ago."

"Arctic temperatures continue to increase at double the rate of the global temperature increase," the NOAA release said. "One chapter in the Arctic Report Card shows, using historical data, that the current observed rate of sea ice decline and warming temperatures are higher than at any other time in the last 1,500 years, and likely longer than that."

The Arctic Report Card provides an annual update on the region and can be used to inform local, state and federal policy relating to climate change and issues of public safety and natural resource conservation, among others.

"The rapid and dramatic changes we continue to see in the Arctic present major challenges and opportunities," said retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator, who led the press conference to release the report card. "This year's Arctic Report Card is a powerful argument for why we need long-term sustained Arctic observations to support the decisions that we will need to make to improve the economic wellbeing for Arctic communities, national security, environmental health and food security."

While 2016 remains the hottest year yet on record in the Arctic, the temperatures in 2017 were 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the average from 1981-2010. And while 2017 didn't set temperature records, the sea ice coverage in March were the lowest ever recorded. Sea ice minimum levels, recorded in September, were the eight-lowest on record. The report also noted that sea ice is getting thinner, with less and less thick, multi-year ice. In 2017, multi-year ice made up just 21 percent of the icepack. In 1985, multi-year ice was 45 percent of sea ice.

Sea water temperatures in the Arctic are also getting warmer. The sea surface temperatures were 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the average for the region, and plankton blooms were increasing due to less sea ice allowing more sunlight into the upper layers of the ocean.

On land, the tundra is getting greener, the Arctic Report Card said, with the greatest increase of the last three decades occurring on the North Slope of Alaska as well as regions of Canada's tundra and the Taimyr Peninsula of Siberia. Plants are getting bigger and leafier and trees and shrubs are setting down roots in tundra and grassland.

The Arctic is also seeing less and less snowfall, the report noted. 2017 was the 11th year in the past 12 in which snow cover was below average in the Arctic region of North America, while Eurasia's Arctic regions saw above-average snow cover in 2017.

Greenland's ice sheet was perhaps the only bright spot in the Arctic Report Card. Greenland experienced a cooler summer, resulting in below-average melting compared to the last nine years, the report noted, but still continued to lose mass this year as it has since 2002. The massive sheet of melting ice is a major contributor to sea level rise.

The report can be accessed in its entirety at www.arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card.

 

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