Arctic entering new climatic state

Monday 05th Dec 2011 by theWeather Club

Image: NOAA

An international team of scientists which monitors the rapid changes in the Earth's northern polar region says that the Arctic is entering a new climatic state. It is becoming a place with higher air and water temperatures, less summer sea ice and snow cover, and even changes in ocean chemistry. The team believes it is leading to a shift in habitat, causing changes to the region's wildlife both on land and in the sea, including fewer habitats for polar bears and walruses but increased access to feeding areas for whales.

In 2006, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Program Office introduced the State of the Arctic Report which established a baseline of conditions at the beginning of the 21st century. This report is updated annually to monitor the often-quickly changing conditions in the Arctic. The Arctic Report Card tracks the Arctic atmosphere, sea ice, biology, ocean and land. This year, new sections were added, including greenhouse gases, ozone and ultraviolet radiation, ocean acidification, Arctic Ocean primary productivity and lake ice.

The latest report was released on 1st December of this year. "This report, by a team of 121 scientists from around the globe, concludes that the Arctic region continues to warm, with less sea ice and greater green vegetation," said Monica Medina, NOAA principal deputy under-secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. "With a greener and warmer Arctic, more development is likely. Reports like this one help us to prepare for increasing demands on Arctic resources so that better decisions can be made about how to manage and protect these more valuable and increasingly available resources."

Among the 2011 report significant findings:

Atmosphere In 2011, the average annual near-surface air temperatures over much of the Arctic Ocean were approximately 1.5° C greater than the 1981-2010 baseline period.

Sea ice Minimum Arctic sea ice area in September 2011 was the second lowest recorded by satellite since 1979.

Ocean Arctic Ocean temperature and salinity may be stabilising after a period of warming and freshening. Also, acidification of sea water (ocean acidification) as a result of carbon dioxide absorption has been documented in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Land Arctic tundra vegetation continues to increase and is associated with higher air temperatures over most of the Arctic land mass.

With negotiations in Durban becoming increasingly political, it is a timely reminder that the science should not be allowed to slip of the agenda.