Arctic ‘Report Card’ Shows Continued Climate Changes

October17, 2007

The first update of a report tracking the state of the Arctic indicates that some changes in that region are larger and occurring faster than those previously predicted by climate models, while other indicators show some stabilizing. The “Report Card” was issued today by an international team of scientists, including a NOAA lead author.

 “The Arctic is an extraordinarily interconnected region, so what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” said Richard Spinrad, NOAA assistant administrator for oceanic and atmospheric research. “There will be significant environmental effects throughout the globe resulting from changes in the Arctic. This annual update provides key information to decision makers and the scientific community on changes that are taking place in the Arctic now.”

An international team of research scientists created a peer-reviewed website,, which tracks multiple changes in the Arctic environment. Relative to amounts of Arctic sea ice in the 1980s, the region lost almost 40 percent of the summertime sea ice in the central Arctic in 2007. While the continued loss of summertime sea ice is the most dramatic example, changes are also seen in the atmosphere, on land, in the ocean, and in location and abundance of Arctic species.

“The purpose of the Report Card is to provide a concise, scientifically credible and accessible source of information on recent changes in the Arctic,” says Jacqueline Richter-Menge, the chief editor of the project, from the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

A lead author, James Overland, a scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., has identified a wind circulation pattern blowing more warm air towards the North Pole, compared to the circulation patterns in the 20th century.

The fate of the Greenland ice sheet represents large uncertainty. “Recent ice loss is about the same as in the early 20th century, but one cannot exclude a potentially faster response, as mechanisms remain incompletely understood,” wrote the team headed by Edward Hanna of the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.

Not all indicators show extreme events, and some signals are mixed. For instance, North Pole ocean temperatures are returning to 1990s values, but currents are relatively warm around the edges of the Arctic Ocean.

Permafrost temperatures are stabilizing in both North America and Eurasia, but permafrost melt remains a serious problem. Shrubs are moving northward into tundra areas, but causes for treeline movements are difficult to assess because forest management practices are as influential as climate change. Changes in Arctic animal populations show mixed tendencies over decades. Many caribou and reindeer herds have declined (some up to 80 percent relative to their peaks), while Arctic goose populations have generally expanded.

“The Report Card brings together cutting edge information on changes in Arctic systems,” says Mike Gill, Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program Secretariat in Canada, and a report card co-editor. “The Report Card reinforces that natural systems in the Arctic continue to undergo significant change, with climate change likely playing an increasing role - emphasizing the need for ongoing and enhanced monitoring.”

The Report Card is organized by NOAA and will be updated annually. It is a contribution to the international Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) and the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Programme.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.