Despite the fact that summer 2009 had more sea ice than in 2007 or 2008, scientists are seeing drastic changes in the region from just five years ago and at rates faster than anticipated. The findings were presented today in the annual update of the Arctic Report Card, a collaborative effort of 71 national and international scientists.
"The Arctic is a special and fragile place on this planet," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "Climate change is happening faster in the Arctic than any other place on Earth - and with wide-ranging consequences. When I visited the northern corners of Alaska's Arctic region earlier this year, I saw an area abundant with natural resources, diverse wildlife, proud local and native peoples - and a most uncertain future. This year's Arctic Report Card underscores the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas pollution and adapting to climate changes already under way."
Among the changes highlighted in the 2009 update to the report card were:
A change in large scale wind patterns affected by the loss of summer sea ice,
The replacement of multi-year sea ice by first-year sea ice,
Warmer and fresher water in the upper ocean linked to new ice-free areas,
A continued loss of the Greenland ice sheet,
Less snow in North America and increased runoff in Siberia, and
The effect of the loss of sea ice on Arctic plant, animal, and fish species.
The Arctic Report Card is an annual assessment that was introduced by NOAA's Climate Program Office in 2006 and is an example of the suite of climate services to which NOAA contributes.
Scientific assessments are key to informing our understanding of climate – how and why it is changing and what the changing conditions mean to lives and livelihoods. The Arctic Report Card established a baseline of conditions in the region at the beginning of the 21st century and the annual updates track and monitor the often quickly-changing conditions in the Arctic. Using a color-coding system of red to indicate consistent evidence of warming and yellow to indicate there are mixed signals about warming from climate indicators and species, the report card is updated annually in October and tracks Arctic data in six categories: atmosphere, sea ice, biology, ocean, land, and conditions in Greenland.
"The Arctic we see today is very different from the Arctic we saw even five years ago," said Jackie Richter-Menge of the USACE Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H. and the report's chief technical editor and contributing author. "It's a warmer place with less thick and more mobile sea ice, warmer and fresher ocean water, and increased stress on caribou, reindeer, polar bears and walrus in some regions."
The 2009 update to the report card reflects the contributions of an international team of 71 researchers from countries that include the United States of America, Canada, Belgium, China, Denmark, Japan, The Netherlands, Russia, and the United Kingdom.