2016’s Arctic Report Card: Temperatures Went Crazy

Bon voyage, 2016. Serg Zastavkin/Shutterstock

The Arctic continues to impress us – for all the wrong reasons. Just before Christmas, another surge of winter warmth blanketed the region, an unwelcome end to an already crazy year. 

A week before the holidays, Arctic temperatures rose 16.7 to 27.7°C (30 to 50°F) above average. The ice, in turn, melted to an all-time low in seven of the 11 months on record.

All this matters. As scientists continue to tell us: What happens in the Arctic, does not stay in the Arctic. Changes there result in a cascade of consequences around the globe.

"We've seen a year in 2016 in the Arctic like we've never seen before," said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic research program. The polar region showed "a stronger, more pronounced signal of persistent warming than any other year in our observation record."

In fact, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The North Pole and much of the surrounding ocean will soon be ice-free in the summer for the first time in thousands of years. In less than 25 years, human will possibly be able to sail across the Arctic in summer.

"The records are astounding because there are so many of them," said Jennifer Francis in an interview with Scientific American. "The extra warming that is happening up in the Arctic – the 'Arctic amplification' – has been the greatest we’ve ever seen." 

In a bon voyage to 2016, here’s a highlight reel of the madness that went on in the Arctic. 

A bad start

First and foremost, the year began on a low note: January sea ice extent was the lowest on satellite record, with some regions warming an incredible 8°C (14°F) above average.

Double trouble

The Arctic warmed twice as fast as the rest of the planet, reaching 3.5°C (6.3°F) above average since 1900.

An early melt

The Greenland ice sheet began melting much too early – the second earliest in the 37-year observational record.

Winter is coming… or so we thought

November reached an incredible 20°C (36°F) above normal. In fact, in the middle of the month, ice extent actually decreased for several days.

MAYbe it gets worse

May snow cover came in at a record low since satellite observations began, with less than 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles). This allowed more sunlight to reach the upper layers of the ocean, stimulating widespread algae blooms.

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