The Arctic is becoming a greener and warmer place, according to a report released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The study, NOAA's 2012 "State of the Arctic" report card, said the cold region at the top of the world continued to break records, including loss of summer sea ice, lack of spring snow cover and melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
"The Arctic is changing in both predictable and unpredictable ways, so we must expect surprises," said NOAA head Jane Lubchenco during a briefing at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting in San Francisco.
What was unusual about the Arctic this year was that, with few exceptions, air temperatures weren't all that high, yet there were continuing changes to the ice and snow across the region, according to Martin Jeffries, co-editor of the report and science adviser at the Office of Naval Research.
Some of the highlights of the report included:
- Snow cover:@ A record low snow extent for the Northern Hemisphere was set in June, and a record low was reached in May over Eurasia.
- Sea ice:@ The minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September set an all-time record low, as measured by satellite since 1979.
- Greenland ice sheet:@ There was a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event on the Greenland ice sheet in July, covering about 97% of the ice sheet on a single day.
- Vegetation:@ The tundra is getting greener, and there's more above-ground growth. During the period of 2003-2010, the length of the growing season increased through much of the Arctic.
- Wildlife & food chain:@ In northernmost Europe, the Arctic fox is close to extinction and vulnerable to the encroaching red fox. Additionally, recent measurements of massive phytoplankton blooms below the summer sea ice suggest that earlier estimates of biological production at the bottom of the marine food chain may have been 10 times lower than was occurring.
- Ocean:@ Sea-surface temperatures in summer continue to be warmer than the long-term average at the growing ice-free margins, while upper ocean temperature and salinity show significant variability with no clear trends.
NOAA began the annual State of the Arctic report in 2006. This year's report was compiled by 141 authors from 15 countries.
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY