The Arctic Had One Of Its Worst Years On Record


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has published its annual Arctic Report Card. The report, now in its 15th year, shows how the northern polar environment has deteriorated over the years due to anthropogenic global warming. This year's card increases the concerns about the region.

The period between October 2019 and September 2020 was the second-warmest year in the 120 years of temperature records in the Arctic. This is part of a worrying trend, with the hottest temperature having all happened in the last six years.  

Considering the last decade alone, 9 years saw air temperatures 1 °C (2.2 °F) or higher compared to the average of the previous thirty years. This increase has a deleterious effect across the Arctic. An unusually warm spring led to the lowest June snow extent ever observed in Siberia in the last 54 years.

Northern Russia also experienced extreme wildfires in the Sakha Republic. This is one of the examples of the worrying feedback loop of the climate crisis. An increase in air temperature reduces the amount of snow and precipitation, making wildfire more likely, which in turn affects the climate.

And it is not just less snow. It’s also less ice. 2020 saw the second-lowest Arctic minimum sea ice extent. The sea ice that managed to survive is also less old, thick, and strong. With less ice and snow, more solar radiation is absorbed than reflected into space. And this makes the planet hotter.

“Taken as a whole, the story is unambiguous,” Rick Thoman, Alaska Climate Specialist with the International Arctic Research Center, and one of three editors of this year’s report card, said in a statement. “The transformation of the Arctic to a warmer, less frozen and biologically changed region is well underway.”

A tiny bit of good news is the finding that Pacific Arctic bowhead whales have increased in number over the last three decades due to an increase in local plankton and krill being transported northward due to warmer sea temperature. Unfortunately, this year we have also discovered the first evidence that killer whales are praying on this endangered species.

“For 15 years, the Arctic Report Card has helped NOAA fulfil its mission of providing the scientific information our nation needs to better understand how climate change is affecting the Arctic and weather around the globe,” stated retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, Ph.D., deputy undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA, as he presented the findings American Geophysical Union as part of its fall meeting.

“Our ability to meet the challenges and opportunities of an Arctic region in transition depends on how well we can observe and predict the pace and scale of these changes.”


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