December 4, 2011

‘Arctic Report Card’ Finds Temps Rising, Glacier Mass Decreasing

Arctic air temperatures were approximately 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher in 2011 than the baseline number for the previous three decades, and the region continues to lose ice sheet and glacier mass at a "dramatic" rate, according to a new report released by an international team of scientists Thursday.

The 2011 Arctic Report Card, which was compiled by a team of 121 scientists from 14 different countries, measures the status of the area in five different categories: atmosphere, sea ice and ocean, marine ecosystems, terrestrial ecosystems, and hydrology and terrestrial crysophere, according to the report card's homepage.

The scientists determined that higher Arctic temperatures, as well as unusually low temperatures in some low latitude areas, can be linked to worldwide shifts in atmospheric wind patterns. They have also determined that polar bears and walruses are continuing to have their Alaskan habitats disappear, and that "continued dramatic loss of ice sheet and glacier mass, reduced snow extent and duration, and increasing permafrost temperatures are linked to higher Arctic air temperatures."

Reuters Environment Correspondent Deborah Zabarenko adds that, due to a decrease in bright ice to reflect sunlight and an increase in dark, open water to absorb those rays, the changes in the Arctic's various characteristics will continue to accelerate. With less ice in the area, it could potentially result in an increase in development of the region, due to the resources of the Arctic being easier to access with less ice preventing oil and gas companies and tourists from travelling there.

"We've got a new normal," Don Perovich, an expert on sea ice at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire, told Zabarenko on Friday. "Whether it's a tipping point and it will never recover, who can say? But we have a new normal ... that has implications not just for the ice but other components of the Arctic system."

The study also reported that in September 2011, the sea ice extent in the arctic reached its second lowest point in the past 30 year; that the amount of older, thicker ice accumulations formed over multiple years continued to decline this year; and that both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route were completely free of ice during the month of September.


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