Arctic Is Changing Before Our Eyes
December 7, 2012

2012 Arctic Report Card Shows Retreating Ice And Snow

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The 2012 Arctic Report Card was released on Thursday, showing a record low snow coverage and record low sea ice extent.

The report card calls on the expertise of 140 scientists from 15 countries to summarize the state of the Arctic.

Martin Jeffries of the Office of Naval Research warns that "if we are not already there, we're clearly on the verge of seeing a new Arctic."

The report shows a longer growing season with greener tundra, record high permafrost temperatures in northernmost Alaska, longer melt season ever seen on the Greenland ice sheet, and a nearly ice-sheet wide melt event in July.

The thinner sea ice is allowing more light to come through, leading to massive phytoplankton blooms in the summer, which could create more productivity at the bottom of the food chain for those waters.

The Arctic fox is close to extinction in Fennoscandia, and falling prey to the larger Red foxes moving north with warmer temperatures. The Arctic fox is suffering as a result of changes in the lemming cycle.

According to the report, there were extreme weather events including extreme cold and snowfall in Eurasia, and two major storms off western and northern Alaska.

Jason Box, who studies Greenland at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, told Discovery News that 2012 was the warmest summer in 170 years, and it crossed a threshold in Greenland.

"We can expect Greenland to be melting across its entire surface from now on," Box told Discovery reporter Larry O'Hanlon.

Losing ice in the Arctic adds to the growing global warming problem, because it means there is less ice and snow to reflect solar energy out. Instead, darker ground and waters are exposed, attracting more sunlight.

“The Arctic is changing in both predictable and unpredictable ways, so we must expect surprises,” Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said during a press briefing at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco, California.

“The Arctic is an extremely sensitive part of the world and with the warming scientists have observed, we see the results with less snow and sea ice, greater ice sheet melt and changing vegetation," Lubchenco said during the briefing.

Jeffries, co-editor of the report card, pointed out that as snow and ice retreat, the marine and terrestrial ecosystems respond, and also expose more natural resources and increased tourism.

“The record low spring snow extent and record low summer sea ice extent in 2012 exemplify a major source of the momentum for continuing change,” Jeffries said in the report.