Now in its 11th year, this year’s Arctic Report Card, released at Tuesday’s American Geophysical Union conference, may be the bleakest yet.
Perhaps most notably, the report shows that air temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at two times the rate of air temperatures globally, and that, overall, 2016 was the warmest year on record for the Arctic.
The effect of rapid air temperature warming in the Arctic is multifold — it has led to diminished spring snow cover (the lowest on record), contributed to ocean acidification (which disrupts the Arctic’s precarious food chain), and introduced bacteria to local fauna populations, like shrews, forcing them to move northward.
While it may at times seem an afterthought— a relatively unexplored and uncharted hunk of ice— the Arctic is critical for the rest of the world. As polar ice caps melt in the Arctic, the rock and water underneath soak up solar energy at an even faster rate, creating a vicious, accelerating cycle of warming.
This year’s warming is almost certainly not an anomaly. Four individual months — January, February, October, and November — were the hottest months on record, according to the report. At one point last month, the Arctic was 36 degrees warmer than it normally should have been, due to a confluence of factors, among them global climate change and a jet stream of warm air hitting the Arctic at the time.
While some measures have been taken to protect the Arctic from its distressing pattern of warming, such as when President Obama banned offshore oil drilling in parts of the Arctic Ocean, the most recent report indicates these measures may not be sufficient.
“Changes are already impacting life systems, cultures, and economic prosperity,” the report states. “Continued change is expected to bear major implications far outside the region.”
If world leaders are able to come together to protect the Arctic, perhaps we can hope for a grade slightly better than an ‘F’ on next year’s report card.