Annual Arctic Report Card Shows Stronger Effects of Warming

October 16, 2008

Temperature increases, a near-record loss of summer sea ice, and a melting of surface ice in Greenland are among some of the evidence of continued warming in the Arctic, according to an annual review of conditions in the Arctic issued today by NOAA and its university, agency, and international partners.

“Changes in the Arctic show a domino effect from multiple causes more clearly than in other regions,” said James Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle and a lead author of the report. “It’s a sensitive system and often reflects changes in relatively fast and dramatic ways.”

One example of these changes in arctic climate is the autumn air temperatures which are at a record 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) above normal, because of the major loss of sea ice in recent years. The loss of sea ice allows more solar heating of the ocean. That warming of the air and ocean affects land and marine life, and reduces the amount of winter sea ice that lasts into the following summer. The year 2007 was the warmest on record for the Arctic, continuing a general Arctic-wide warming trend that began in the mid-1960s.

The Arctic Report Card, a product introduced by NOAA’s Climate Program Office in 2006, establishes a baseline of conditions in that region in the 21st century and provides a way of monitoring the often quickly changing conditions. It is updated annually in October and tracks the Arctic atmosphere, sea ice, biology, ocean, land and Greenland.

In this year’s report card, three of the six areas (atmosphere, sea ice, and Greenland) are coded red on the Report Card, indicating that the changes are strongly attributed to warming. The three remaining areas (biology, ocean, land) are coded yellow, indicating mixed signals. The 2007 Report Card had two red areas (atmosphere and sea ice) and four coded yellow.

“The Arctic Report Card is one of the few opportunities for a team of researchers to work together to provide a very broad look at the state of the Arctic system,” said the report’s chief editor Jackie Richter-Menge from the USACE Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H. “The information combines to tell a story of widespread and, in some cases, dramatic effects of an overall warming of the Arctic system.”

The report’s other contributing lead authors are from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass.; the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska;  Byrd Polar Research Center, Columbus, Ohio; and Environment Canada, Whitehorse, Yukon.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.