Arctic sunset

The Arctic is hotter than ever, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual report. The report contains data from 61 scientists in 11 countries. They noticed a massive decline in sea ice and snow.

Arctic ice melting
The Arctic ice melting

The Arctic report card is a timely and peer-reviewed source for clear, reliable, and concise environmental information on the current state of different components of the Arctic environmental system relative to historical records. It has been issued annually since 2006. This year’s report card was released at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.

Key Findings

  • Temperature: Annual average surface air temperature over land was 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than at the start of the 20th century. It is warming at twice the rate of global temperatures. Part of this extreme was due to especially warm air coming in from the south during the winter of 2016.
  • Sea Ice: The Arctic has minimum sea ice extant at the end of summer — 33% below the long-term average. It is the second-lowest amount during the official Arctic report card period.
  • Snow Cover: The Arctic ice pack is more vulnerable to summer melting than the thicker, stronger ice pack of the 80s. With less ice coverage, there is more solar heating throughout much of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas. This causes ocean photosynthesis to increase, which changes the basis of the food chain; whole ecosystems can be disrupted as a result.
  • Greenland ice sheet: The Greenland ice sheet continued to lose mass in 2016. In 37 years of Greenland ice sheet observations, only one year had an earlier onset of spring melting than 2016.
  • Ocean acidification: The ocean is more vulnerable to ocean acidification, a process driven by the ocean’s intake of increased human-caused carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Carbon: The warming tundra is now releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than it is taking in.

Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Research Program, said, “Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year.” NOAA’s Report Card points to global warming as the cause.