Arctic sea ice is becoming increasingly thin and transient, and this is having huge impacts on flora and fauna of the region, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The generally gloomy findings from the Arctic Report Card for September show that despite much cooler than average spring and summer weather across the region, summer sea ice continues to dwindle, and ice melt from the Greenland ice sheet is continuing, albeit at a slower rate.
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Year-on-year warming continues across the region, with average air temperatures for the year ending September 2017, being the second highest on record since 1900.
The Report says that 2017 was typical of the downward ice trend in the Arctic with the March sea ice maximum at its lowest on record, and the September minimum sea ice extent the eighth lowest on record.
High sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are having a major effect on the nature of the ice itself. In some regions, such as the Barents and Chukchi Seas, the SSTs are an incredible 4C above average. This is contributing to a sharp decline in ‘mature’ ice.
Thick ice, more than a year old, has declined from 45 percent in 1985 to 21 percent cover in 2017. Ice that is more than four years old has all but disappeared.
Lower life forms in the marine food chain have shown a significant increase in the period 2003 to 2017. This is likely to impact higher up the chain, although whether these changes will be beneficial remains to be seen.
On land, the greening of the tundra region continues with the permafrost seeing the highest temperatures on record. This is of particular concern as it could result in the release of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.
The report concludes that the warming is likely to have an increasing impact on fisheries, wildfires and the very lives of the communities in the High Arctic and that there is a growing need to prepare for, and adapt to, the ‘new Arctic’.