By Lauren Koellermeier
PMEL Outreach Coordinator
The Arctic is losing its signature feature – sea ice. Further, warmer conditions have been measured in Greenland, and snow cover duration was at a record minimum this past year. This is according to the 2010 NOAA Arctic Report Card, released Oct. 21
The NOAA Arctic Report card shows consistent evidence that warming is occurring in the region and a return anytime soon to Arctic conditions of the past 25-30 years is unlikely. Dr. James Overland. of OAR's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, is co-author of the report, along with Jackie Richter-Menge from the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. The report was produced by a team of 69 international scientists and is based on 176 published scientific references.
"Greenland is experiencing record-setting high temperatures, summer sea ice conditions continue to be well below those of the 1980s and 1990s, and snow cover duration was at a record minimum since 1966," Dr. Overland said, summarizing the Arctic Report Card highlights.
First issued in 2006 by NOAA's Climate Program Office, the Arctic Report Card establishes a baseline of conditions at the beginning of the 21st century to monitor the quickly changing conditions of the Arctic. The report and website (http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/) feature sections on the conditions of the atmosphere, sea ice, ocean, land, Greenland, and biology using color codes to decipher the degree of warming in each Arctic area.
2010 Arctic sea ice summer minimum extent on September 3, 2010. The 2010 minimum reached 4.6 million square kilometers on September 19, 2010, and is the third-lowest recorded since 1979, surpassed only by 2008 and the record low in 2007.
Red Alert: The Air, the Ice Show Warming
Areas in the report that are linked to red boxes – "consistent evidence of warming" – are the atmosphere, Greenland, and sea ice. Linked to yellow – "many indications of warming" – are biology, ocean and land.
The report card states that "the annual mean air temperature for 2009 over Arctic land areas was cooler than in recent years, although the average temperature for the last decade remained the warmest in the record beginning in 1900." Temperatures for the beginning of 2010 were relatively warm. This warming leads to near-record sea ice loss, opening up areas of the Arctic to be warmed by the summer sun, which in turn, releases heat into the atmosphere in the autumn. This warm air weakens the winds that normally circle the North Pole, allowing outbreaks of cold Arctic air to the south, as evidenced by the "Snowpocalypse" of February 2010 that dumped several feet of snow on the Washington D.C. area.
While U.S. weather is impacted by random events and multiple physical processes, Dr. Overland along with others, conclude in the atmospheric section of the report: (http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/atmosphere.html)
The U.S. East Coast had to dig out of several major snowstorms during the 2009-2010 winter. Warming of Arctic waters led to more heat being released into the atmosphere, weakening the cold air that normally circles the Arctic and pushing it to more southern latitudes.
"With future loss of sea ice, such cold conditions [in mid-latitude regions] as winter 2009-2010 could happen more often. Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations."
Outlook for the future
In 2010, the Arctic-wide warming seen in recent years in continuing and impacting every aspect of the Arctic environment and beyond. Some wildlife populations are increasing, such as some sea birds and whales, while many others are in decline. With more warmth, permafrost is melting in many places, Northern forest fires are occurring more frequently, duration of snow cover is decreasing, and many glaciers are losing mass.
Will these trends continue?
"As the Arctic becomes warmer, it is increasingly difficult to rebuild thick multi-year sea ice cover seen in previous decades. Therefore, recent conditions seen throughout the Arctic environment are likely to persist into the future," concludes Dr. Overland.
For more information including please visit the 2010 Arctic Report Card web site (http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/)