WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal officials say the Arctic region has changed
dramatically in the past five years -- for the worse.
It’s melting at a near record pace, and it’s darkening and absorbing too
much of the sun’s heat.
A new report card from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
rates the polar region with blazing red stop lights on three of five
categories and yellow cautions for the other two. Overall, these are not
good grades, but it doesn’t mean the Arctic is doomed and it still will
freeze in the winter, said report co-editor Jackie Richter-Menge.
The Arctic acts as Earth’s refrigerator, cooling the planet. What’s
happening, scientists said, is like someone pushing the fridge’s thermostat
much too high.
The dramatic changes are from both man-made global warming and recent
localized weather shifts, which were on top of the longer term warming
trend, scientists said.
The report, written by 121 scientists from around the world, said statistics
point to a shift in the Arctic health in 2006. That was right before 2007,
when a mix of weather conditions and changing climate led to a record loss
of sea ice, from which the region has never recovered. This summer’s sea ice
melt was the second worst on record, a tad behind 2007.
“We’ve got a new normal,” said co-author Don Perovich, a geophysicist at the
Army Corps of Engineers Cold Research and Engineering Lab. “Whether it’s a
tipping point and we’ll never recover, who’s to say?”
The report highlighted statistics to show an Arctic undergoing change:
--A NASA satellite found that 430 billion metric tons of ice melted in
Greenland from 2010 to 2011, and the melting is accelerating. Since 2000,
Greenland’s 39 widest glaciers shrunk by nearly 530 square miles, about the
equivalent of 22 Manhattans.
--The past five years have had the five lowest summer sea ice levels on
record. For two straight years, all three major passages through the Arctic
have been open in the summer, which is unusual.
--Seven of 19 polar bear sub-populations are shrinking.
--This year’s temperature is roughly 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than what
had been normal since 1980.
What’s even more troubling to scientists is that there’s been a record
darkening of the normally white Arctic land and sea. White snow and ice
reflects solar energy, but a melting darker Arctic in the summer absorbs
Government’s Arctic report card: www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/