This year, in addition to the pandemic, the Arctic was a hot topic in the media. Numerous reports of record high temperatures, unusual precipitation, “zombie” fires and disappearing sea ice made global headlines. The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA has now summarized and published the scientifically confirmed observations and measurements in its annual report.
Experts describe the picture presented in this report by a total of 111 scientists from 12 countries as “dramatic”. In three sections on a total of 126 pages, the authors have documented the observations and measurements from weather, climate, land and ocean conditions in the Arctic made during this year. In doing so, they referred to sound and verified data and not just to individual observations. “The Arctic Report Card continues to show how the impacts of human-induced climate change are catapulting the Arctic into a dramatically different state than it was just a few decades ago,” said NOAA Administrator Dr. Rick Spinrad.
In the report, the experts not only present extreme events such as the rain recorded for the first time in the middle of the Greenland ice sheet or the record temperature of around 38°C in the Russian Arctic just confirmed by the WMO, but also the results of long-term observations such as the loss of multi-year sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, the snow-free periods in the entire Eurasian Arctic in summer or the massive loss of ice from the Greenland glaciers. “The trends are alarming and undeniable” Dr. Spinard comments. “We face a decisive moment. We must take action to confront the climate crisis.”
Other, less quickly apparent effects have now also been included in the report. For example, increased shipping traffic along Arctic routes and the resulting increased noise emissions for marine mammals and fish, pollution from particulate matter, ship waste and fuel. Or the increased acidification of the Arctic Ocean due to the increased carbon dioxide input and the resulting damage to the plankton, which is at the beginning of the food web. This is a profound change because it affects not only the animal inhabitants of the Arctic, but also the human inhabitants who live by fishing and hunting. “It’s not just about polar bears, it’s about real people,” Rick Thoman of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, tells The Washington Post newspaper. “These changes are impacting people and their lives and livelihoods from ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’ up to the international scale.” Food supplies in Arctic regions have already been severely negatively impacted by the pandemic and will be further exacerbated by a reduction in fishing and hunting opportunities due to climate change effects.
The picture painted by NOAA’s new report is very bleak for the Arctic and, by extension, much of the planet. This is because weather and climate events occur in the northern polar region that are also felt in the more southern parts of the world, even as far as Antarctica. And it could get even worse, because the decisions taken at the climate summit in Glasgow are criticised by numerous environmental associations, countries and experts as insufficient. A climate resolution introduced a few days ago in the UN Security Council was also blocked by three countries and thus taken off the table. Many experts believe that now is no longer the time for diplomatic games and empty promises, as the window for effective countermeasures is rapidly closing.
However, various scientific articles and reports show that there is still the possibility of mitigating the most massive effects of the changes in the Arctic. “The Arctic story is a human story,” says Twila Moon, an Arctic scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and one of three editors of the 2021 Arctic Report Card. “We all have a role to play in creating the best possible outcomes for the region, its residents and all the citizens of the globe who depend on the Arctic as a critical component of our Earth system.” The will alone is necessary.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
More on the subject: