Thinner Sea Ice And Warmer Temperatures Are The Arctic's "New Normal", According To NOAA's 2017 Report

Polar bears need ample sea ice to access their prey. Maksimilian/Shutterstock

The Arctic is in trouble. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have just released their latest annual Arctic Report Card created by more than 80 scientists from 12 nations, and it highlights some worrying trends at the very top of our planet.  

Although surface air temperature in the icy north wasn’t as high as last year, it was still the second-highest recorded since the start of the 20th century. Meanwhile, not just the air but the waters of the Arctic are much warmer than they should be; in August 2017, the surface temperatures of the Barents and Chukchi seas were 4°C warmer than they were from 1982 to 2010.

And beneath the surface, changes in primary productivity are also occurring. Since 2003, primary productivity in the Barents Sea and Eurasian Arctic regions has continued to rise. Primary productivity is the rate at which organisms like phytoplankton and cyanobacteria turn energy into organic substances through reactions like photosynthesis. An increase in this might sound like a good thing, but actually it tends to be associated with earlier sea ice breakup in the spring and summer.

Unfortunately, the Arctic seems to be losing its sea ice at an alarming rate. Maximum winter sea ice levels in March were the lowest ever recorded. Meanwhile, sea ice cover is getting thinner and thinner, and most of it comprises new, young ice.

Back in 1985, 45 percent of Arctic sea ice was over a year old. Today, this proportion is just 21 percent – it’s more than halved in just over 30 years. According to NOAA, “sea ice more than four years old has nearly disappeared”.  

In addition to this, Arctic permafrost – frozen soil, rock, or sediment that stays frozen for years – is experiencing record warming. The Arctic’s tundra is also getting greener.

However, NOAA found that cooler spring and summer temperatures in the Arctic this year did lead to a rebound in snow cover in the Eurasian Arctic. What’s more, it also meant that summer sea ice loss was lower, and the Greenland ice sheet experienced a below-average amount of melting.

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