Arctic Report Card: Global Warming at the Top of the World

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On October 21, the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual Arctic Report Card. The report was prepared by a group of nearly 70 scientists, and describes how the arctic region continues its warming trend, and the effect that is having on weather patterns throughout the northern hemisphere.

Greenland and the Canadian Arctic experienced unprecedented high temperatures throughout the reporting period. As a result, Greenland saw record-setting ice melt and glacier area loss, with about 420 square kilometers of glaciers being lost to the sea over the course of the year.

The summer sea ice continues to decline.  The 2010 summer sea ice cover extent was the third lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979, and sea ice thickness continues to thin. Conditions are well below the 1980s and 1990s.  Not only that, but there is far less of the older, thicker, more resilient ice than there as in the 1980s.

Arctic snow cover duration was at a record minimum since 1966, when record-keeping began. This is likely the result of low snow accumulation over the winter, and the record spring temperatures.

Although 2009 didn’t have quite the same level of record air temperature increase as shown in previous, 2010 experienced a near-level rate of temperature increase, with monthly anomalies of over 4°C in northern Canada.

This arctic warming has been linked with mid-latitude extreme cold and snowy weather events, such as that experienced by much of the northeastern United States this past winter. This is called the Warm Arctic-Cold Continents pattern. Should this pattern continue, we can expect to see similar disruptive weather patterns in the mid-latitudes.

From a biodiversity standpoint, scientists continue to monitor the changes occurring in the Arctic for the effects on the region’s wildlife. There are biologically-significant populations of many animals in the Arctic, in particular shorebirds and geese. Changes in the Arctic can affect these populations, and that can have unforeseen, and wide-ranging effects. Then there is the polar bear, which relies on the sea ice to enable its hunting habits, and may become critically endangered by the continued reduction in ice coverage.

The Arctic Report card was first issued in 2006 to establish a baseline to rate the climatic change occurring in the Arctic. It has been chronicling the continued climatic shifts ever since. Compared with data gathered in previous years, the Arctic Report Card has shown a continued rise in Arctic temperatures, loss of summer sea ice, thinning of winter sea ice, and winter weather extremes throughout the northern hemisphere. This is global warming at work.

  • Colin Dunn

    Colin Dunn was born and raised in Northern Alberta. Growing up in the boreal forest gave him an appreciation for nature, an appreciation that was enhanced by the works of his artist mother, Svala Dunn, who captured the landscapes and wildlife of the north in her oils and watercolors. He holds a Degree in Geography from the University of Alberta, with a concentration in Urban Studies. He has since found career in information technology, but still pursues his first interests in geography and the environment. He lives and works in southern Vancouver Island, with his wife and three children.

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