An international team of scientists who monitor the rapid changes in the Earth’s northern polar region say that the Arctic is entering a new state – one with warmer air and water temperatures, less summer sea ice and snow cover, and a changed ocean chemistry. This shift is also causing changes in the region’s life, both on land and in the sea, including less habitat for polar bears and walruses, but increased access to feeding areas for whales.
Changes to the Arctic are chronicled annually in the Arctic Report Card, launched this year on the 1st December 2011. The report is prepared by an international team of scientists from 14 different countries.
“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,” said Monica Medina, NOAA principal deputy under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. “With a greener and warmer Arctic, more development is likely. Reports like this one help us to prepare for increasing demands on Arctic resources so that better decisions can be made about how to manage and protect these more valuable and increasingly available resources.”
Among the 2011 highlights are:
Atmosphere: In 2011, the average annual near-surface air temperatures over much of the Arctic Ocean were approximately 2.5° F (1.5° C) greater than the 1981-2010 baseline period.
Sea ice: Minimum Arctic sea ice area in September 2011 was the second lowest recorded by satellite since 1979.
Ocean: Arctic Ocean temperature and salinity may be stabilizing after a period of warming and freshening. Acidification of sea water (“ocean acidification”) as a result of carbon dioxide absorption has also been documented in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
Land: Arctic tundra vegetation continues to increase and is associated with higher air temperatures over most of the Arctic land mass.
Adapted from NOAA press release of 01 December 2011.
For more information, visit the Arctic Report Card: Update for 2011.
Photo: Arctic moss on Svalbard. Credit: Peter Prokosch