Global Warming

Unusually Warm Arctic

During the Arctic winter, when the sun hides from October to March, the average temperature in the frozen north typically hovers around a bone-chilling minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius). But this year, the Arctic is experiencing a highly unusual heat wave.

On Feb. 20, the temperature in Greenland not only climbed above freezing — 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) — it stayed there for over 24 hours and on Saturday (Feb. 24) the temperature on Greenland’s northern tip reached 43 degrees F (6 degrees C) – much warmer than it was in most of Europe at the time.

Weather conditions that drive this bizarre temperature surge have visited the Arctic before, typically appearing about once in a decade, experts told Live Science. However, the last such spike in Arctic winter warmth took place in February 2016 — much more recently than a decade ago. And climbing Arctic temperatures combined with rapid sea-ice loss are creating a new type of climate feedback loop that could accelerate Arctic warming, melting all Arctic sea ice decades earlier than scientists once thought.

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Global Warming

First ship crosses Arctic in winter without an icebreaker

A ship has made a winter crossing of the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time during the coldest period of winter as global warming causes the region’s ice sheets to melt.

The tanker, containing liquefied natural gas, is the first commercial vessel to make such a crossing alone during the winter months.

The voyage is a significant moment in the story of climate change in the Arctic and will be seized on by those with concerns about thinning polar ice and its implications for the environment.


Animals Are Shrinking and Freezing to Death in a Changing Arctic

Unusual weather brought by climate change is making it tough for muskoxen to get food—and sometimes even entombs them in ice.

Muskoxen, the plant-chomping, long-haired mammals that huddle on the Arctic tundra, are being born smaller in parts of the far north, as pregnant mothers struggle to find food.

One reason, according to new research published Thursday in Scientific Reports: Muskoxen eat most of the year by pawing through snow with their hooves. But rising temperatures mean precipitation increasingly falls as rain, only to then freeze on the surface, encasing plant life in inaccessible ice.

Meanwhile, in a type of freak weather event likely to become more common, more than 50 muskoxen died swamped in ice, as gusts of howling winds drove ice and freezing waters from a tidal surge so far inland that fish were found a half-mile from shore. Rising seas are making such surges bigger and more common.

During one February flight in 2011, one of Berger’s co-authors was in a plane, photographing 55 muskoxen standing in a lagoon. A couple of weeks later, 52 of them were dead, most almost completely buried in ice. One animal had chunks of ice in its throat. The only animal not completely encased was standing and appeared to have been trying to walk.

By piecing together weather anomalies, Berger and crew figured out the most likely scenario: the animals had fallen victim to an odd type of localized tsunami. High winds pushed average tides near the site 16 times higher than normal, propelling thick ice and waves inland. Five-meter-long plates of ice up to 50 centimeters thick were found piled near the muskoxen.

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Arctic Migrants

An Inuvialuit hunter high in the Canadian Arctic came across the first beaver anyone in the region has ever killed — another sign climate change is driving the species northward.

“We saw something walk toward us and it was a beaver. So I drove up to it and I shot it,” said Richard Gruben, vice president of the Tuktoyaktuk Hunters and Trappers Association.

The invading beavers pose a significant threat to the Arctic ecosystem because of the way they reshape the landscape with dams. Gruben says some lakes have already dried up because of beaver dams.

Serengeti Invasion

Non-native plants that have been brought in by visitors or planted for decoration around tourist lodges threaten to spread across East Africa’s Serengeti-Mara landscape, where they could disrupt the annual migration of 2 million grazing animals.

A survey by an international team of researchers reveals that the invasive plants are now on the edges of the vast savannas, home to Africa’s famed wildebeest, zebra and gazelle populations.

The researchers say that if the plants were to spread and displace native vegetation, it would mean less forage for the wildlife.


Iceberg Siege

An unusually dense flow of melting ice from the Arctic trapped several boats off Newfoundland during the first half of June, bringing the Maritime Province’s fishing season to a halt.

The Canadian Coast Guard says the ice has been so bad that its icebreaker Amundsen has been unable to free the trapped vessels.

The Coast Guard has instead been forced to rescue several crew members aboard the trapped ships by helicopter.

The snow crab season has been open for weeks, but most fishermen have been stuck ashore waiting for hazardous sea ice to pass.

Global Warming

Climate Change Continues Unabated in the Arctic

Evidence continues to mount that climate change has pushed the Arctic into a new state. Skyrocketing temperatures are altering the essence of the region, melting ice on land and sea, driving more intense wildfires, altering ocean circulation and dissolving permafrost.

A new report chronicles all these changes and warns that even if the world manages to keep global warming below the targeted 2°C threshold, some of the shifts could be permanent. Among the most harrowing are the disappearance of sea ice by the 2030s and more land ice melt than previously thought, pushing seas to more extreme heights.

The findings, released Monday in the Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) assessment, come after a winter of extreme discontent for the region. Sea ice receded a bit in November, a rare occurrence, and hit a record-low maximum for the third year in a row. Temperatures averaged 11°F above normal, driven by sustained mild weather that was punctured by periods of almost unheard of heat when temperatures reached up to 50°F above normal.

The decline of sea ice is well documented. It’s disappearing in all seasons with the fastest shrinkage in the summer months. Old ice, which has formed the bedrock of sea ice for decades, is also declining precipitously. That leaves new ice in its place and susceptible to melt.

The new analysis shows that the average number of days with sea ice cover has dropped by 10-20 days per decade since 1979. Some areas, such as the Barents and Karas seas, have seen even steeper declines. Disappearing sea ice means the darker ocean left in its wake absorbs more energy from the sun, speeding the warming in the region.

Arctic soil holds up to 50 percent of the world’s soil carbon. Rising temperatures are melting permafrost, causing it to release some of the carbon into the atmosphere.

While the carbon release so far has been relatively small, rising temperatures have the potential to rapidly reshape the landscape and speed the melt.

The biggest impact for the globe is the melt of land ice from Greenland’s massive ice sheet. It’s the biggest land ice driver of sea level rise, and it’s been melting at a quickening rate since 2011.

The SWIPA report uses new data and findings to update the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sea level rise estimates made just four years ago.

If carbon emissions continue on their current trends, the report indicates 29 inches would be the low end of sea level rise estimates by 2100, roughly 9 inches higher than the minimum IPCC estimate. And that’s just the low end, with more sea level rise possible as scientists untangle the web of melting in Greenland as well as the Antarctic.

The massive rush of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean is also reshaping ocean circulation and the ecology of the region. Researchers have seen a marked slowdown in North Atlantic circulation as cold, fresh water off Greenland’s southern tip has acted as a roadblock to the currents that steer water through the region. That has the potential to mess with ocean circulation as well as weather patterns, particularly in Europe.

Research shows global warming making oceans more toxic

Climate change is predicted to cause a series of maladies for world oceans including heating up, acidification, and the loss of oxygen. A newly published study published online in the April 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “Ocean warming since 1982 has expanded the niche of toxic algal blooms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans,” demonstrates that one ocean consequence of climate change that has already occurred is the spread and intensification of toxic algae.

Toxic or harmful algal blooms are not a new phenomenon, although many people may know them by other names such as red tides. These events can sicken or kill people who consume toxin-contaminated shellfish and can damage marine ecosystems by killing fish and other marine life.

The problem is worsening.

The distribution, frequency and intensity of these events have increased across the globe and this study links this expansion to ocean warming in some regions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans.

Marine algae are so tiny—50 of them side by side span only the width of a single hair—that they may seem harmless. But when billions of toxic cells come together, they can poison humans, kill marine life, and economically harm coastal communities.

Global Warming

2016 ‘Arctic Report Card’ Gives Grim Evaluation

Arctic sea ice

The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2016 is by far the highest since 1900, and new monthly record highs were recorded for January, February, October and November 2016.

In 37 years of Greenland ice sheet observations, only one year had earlier onset of spring melting than 2016.

After only modest changes from 2013-2015, minimum sea ice extent at the end of summer 2016 tied with 2007 for the second lowest in the satellite record, which started in 1979.

The Arctic Ocean is especially prone to ocean acidification, due to water temperatures that are colder than those further south. The short Arctic food chain leaves Arctic marine ecosystems vulnerable to ocean acidification events.

Spring snow cover extent in the North American Arctic was the lowest in the satellite record, which started in 1967.

Thawing permafrost releases carbon into the atmosphere, whereas greening tundra absorbs atmospheric carbon. Overall, tundra is presently releasing net carbon into the atmosphere.

Small Arctic mammals, such as shrews, and their parasites, serve as indicators for present and historical environmental variability. Newly acquired parasites indicate northward shifts of sub-Arctic species and increases in Arctic biodiversity.

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Global Warming

Global Warming Alters Arctic Food Chain

The Arctic Ocean may seem remote and forbidding, but to birds, whales and other animals, it’s a top-notch dining destination, so animals are flying or swimming thousands of miles to get there.

But the menu is changing. Confirming earlier research, scientists reported Wednesday that global warming is altering the ecology of the Arctic Ocean on a huge scale. The annual production of algae, the base of the food web, increased an estimated 47 percent between 1997 and 2015, and the ocean is greening up much earlier each year.

These changes are likely to have a profound impact for animals further up the food chain, such as birds, seals, polar bears and whales. But scientists still don’t know enough about the biology of the Arctic Ocean to predict what the ecosystem will look like in decades to come.


Arctic Eviction

Migratory birds that have throughout the ages spent the summer in the Arctic may soon find their breeding grounds there too warm and unsuitable because of climate change.

The Arctic is now warming faster than most other places on the planet, especially areas that are home to the most visiting bird species — western Alaska and eastern Russia.

Scientists from the University of Queensland say that climate change in those areas is already causing the “shrubification” of the tundra and creating an environment that invites such predators as red foxes to move northward.

Researcher Hannah Wauchope predicts most Arctic shorebirds won’t be able to breed in the Arctic by 2070.

Global Warming

Increased vegetation in the Arctic region may counteract global warming

Climate change creates more shrub vegetation in barren, arctic ecosystems. A study at Lund University in Sweden shows that organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, are triggered to break down particularly nutritious dead parts of shrubbery. Meanwhile, the total amount of decomposition is reducing. This could have an inhibiting effect on global warming.

A large amount of the Earth’s carbon and nitrogen is stored in arctic ecosystems where the ground is permanently frozen, known as permafrost. Climate change causes such soil to heat up. Johannes Rousk at Lund University, together with colleagues Kathrin Rousk och Anders Michelsen from the University of Copenhagen and the Centre for Permafrost (CENPERM), have conducted field studies outside Abisko in the very north of Sweden, studying what happens to the decomposition of organic material as the climate gets warmer.

As the Arctic region becomes warmer, more shrubs start to grow, rather than moss which is difficult to break down. The shrubs have leaves and roots that are easy to break down and secrete sugar. What the study has shown is that decomposition organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, are triggered to look for nutrient-rich organic materials that contain more nitrogen, while decomposition as a whole is reduced

When the nutrient-rich material is decomposed, the nutrient-poor part of the organic material is enriched, probably causing the amount of carbon to increase. Current climate models do not consider the connection between increased shrub vegetation as a result of ongoing climate change, and soil becoming less nutritious.

Today no one knows what less nutritious soil in the Arctic ecosystem and an overall decreased decomposition of organic material will lead to. However, the study suggests that it will have an inhibiting effect on global warming.

Global Warming

Melting Arctic Ice Causing More Methane Emissions

The melting of the Arctic ice cap is encouraging more natural emissions of methane — one of the most potent greenhouse gases driving climate change.

Researchers at Sweden’s Lund University worked with Dutch and American colleagues to find that the recent accelerated melt of sea ice around the North Pole is allowing the Arctic’s surface waters to absorb more heat and promote the growth of microorganisms in the adjacent tundra.

Those microbes in turn give off natural methane emissions that promote even further climate change and sea ice loss.

This feedback loop of warming and melting appears to have increased with virtually every new cycle over the past decade.

“While numerous studies have shown the effects of sea ice loss on the ocean, there are only a few that show how this oceanic change affects ecosystems on the surrounding land,” said study author Frans-Jan Parmentier.

The findings were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Microbes in recently thawed Arctic tundra are emitting the powerful greenhouse gas methane because of the greater summertime melt of the polar ice cap.


Global Warming

Global Warming Disrupting Arctic Life for the Caribou

Earth’s climate has changed constantly during the 4 billion years that life has lived on this planet. But usually, it changes slowly. When the climate has changed quickly, species that failed to adapt died off, often in shocking numbers. The quickly warming Arctic is now forcing caribou to adapt.

The caribou breeding cycle is timed to the sun, not to temperature. It is timed so that baby caribou will be born during late May or early June, every year, without exception. Plants are different. They time their growth cycle to the temperature. They can be awakened early.

Before the Arctic started warming, these two cycles were in sync. A pregnant caribou could count on there being plenty of nutrient-rich vegetation around in May, when she needed it most, to feed the single baby calf growing within her.

Climate change is decoupling these cycles. Plants are erupting out of the ground earlier in the year. By the time pregnant caribou arrive at their birthing grounds, the vegetation has already peaked. Mothers are becoming malnourished. Fewer calves are being born, and fewer are surviving their crucial first few months. And even when they do survive, they are still vulnerable, to overhunting, and to diseases carried north by deer that would never have survived the Arctic chill of yesteryear.

Caribou populations are reeling. And now they face a new menace – Mosquitoes.

The Arctic mosquito, a larger, furrier version of the ubiquitous pests, are getting a longer breeding season as Arctic ponds warmed earlier in the year, researchers from Dartmouth have found.

The large flying insects are a nuisance to humans but potentially harmful to wildlife, especially caribou. While they’re not known to spread disease, the persistent insects can drive the caribou to remote snowbanks or hilltops to seek shelter. They will go to the top of windy hill. When they do that, they are often moving to areas with no food or no quality food.

The earlier the insects hatch, the bigger a problem they become for the caribou since they overlap with the birth of caribou calves, researchers said, noting that if the calves are forced to retreat to snowier or more desolate areas, they could die without adequate nutrition. In the Arctic, temperatures have increased at twice the global rate in the past 100 years, according to the study.

Increased mosquito abundance, in addition to northward range expansions of additional pest species, will have negative consequences for the health and reproduction of the caribou.

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Global Warming

Thousands of walruses wash ashore as global warming devastates Alaskan Arctic

The extreme loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is forcing thousands of walruses to crowd ashore on a remote barrier island off Alaska, and threatening their survival.

The first reported sighting of animals forced to come ashore in the Chukchi Sea was by a photographer on 23 August, and confirmed by villagers in the remote hamlet of Point Lay late on Thursday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Such landings, forced by the absence of sea ice on which to rest and feed, put the animals at risk of stampede in the limited space of the barrier island.

The animals are easily spooked by aircraft or onlookers, government scientists warned. Trampling deaths are one of the biggest natural risks.

Sea ice cover in the winter months fell to a new low this year because of climate change and abnormal weather patterns.

Some scientists believe the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in the summer months by the 2030s – with profound effects for local indigenous communities that rely on the ice, as well as wildlife that depend on extreme conditions.

Since 2000, the forced migration of walruses and their young to barrier islands such as Point Lay — known as a “haul out” — has become an increasingly regular occurrence, according to US government scientists.

Last year, as many as 40,000 animals, mainly females and their young, were forced ashore. It was the biggest known haul-out of its kind in the US Arctic, according to government scientists. The Federal Aviation Authority re-routed flights and bush pilots were told to keep their distance to avoid a stampede.

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Global Warming

Baked Alaska: Climate Change in the Arctic

If there’s been any “pause” in global warming, the Arctic hasn’t seen it. The latest Arctic Report Card issued from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows a continued acceleration of climate change in the region.

This latest report shows that Arctic air temperatures continue to rise at more than twice the rate of global temperatures, a phenomenon scientists call “Arctic amplification,” causing a range of impacts. Among them are increasing air and sea surface temperatures, declining reflectivity (albedo) of Greenland’s ice sheet, diminishing spring snow cover on land and summer ice on the ocean, and the declining health and numbers of some polar bear numbers, including those in the Hudson Bay region.

The Arctic is the climatic canary in a coal mine, impacting not only Arctic populations and ecosystems, but the global climate system as well.

Major findings from this year’s report card include:

Air temperature: The polar vortex pushed cold Arctic air southward into eastern North America, and extremely warm air northward into Alaska and northern Europe. In January 2014 Alaska experienced temperatures more than 18 degree Fahrenheit above average.

Snow cover: Spring snow cover across the region was below the 1981-2010 average. A record low was set in April for Eurasia, and in June North America’s snow extent was the third lowest on record. In western Russia, Scandinavia, Alaska and the Canadian subarctic snow disappeared three to four weeks earlier than normal, due to decreased snow accumulation and above average spring temperatures.

Sea ice: Arctic sea ice was the 6th lowest in September 2014 since satellite observations began in 1979. Since 1979 the 8 lowest sea ice extent has occurred over the past 8 years – 2007 to 2014. There was a slight increase in ice thickness and age in March 2014, the time of maximum ice extent, over the same period in 2013. Despite this, the oldest and most resilient ice, greater than 13 feet, is still well below the observed average. In 1988 the oldest ice comprised 26 percent of the ice pack, in 2014 this old ice made up only 10 percent of the total ice pack.

Arctic ocean temperature: With declining sea ice comes warming sea surface temperatures (SST) in all regions of the Arctic ocean. This is most pronounced in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska. SST is increasing there at a rate of 0.9 degrees F per decade.

Greenland ice sheet: In the summer of 2014 melting occurred across nearly 40 percent of Greenland’s ice sheet. The summer extent of melting was above the 1981-2010 long-term average for 90 percent of the 2014 summer. Ice melt for June and July exceeded the 1981-2010 average for most of the ice sheet. In August, the albedo, or reflectivity, of the ice sheet reached it’s lowest point since observation began in 2000.

Arctic ocean productivity: Another impact from declining sea ice is increased sunlight reaching the upper layers of the ocean, increasing photosynthesis and increased production of phytoplankton. This is also altering the timing of phytoplankton blooms across the Arctic ocean, with increased secondary blooms in the fall.

Vegetation: Tundra biomass has increased 20 percent between 1982 and 2013. Despite this, there is a browning trend in Eurasia.

Polar bears: An addendum to this year’s report card reaffirms the threat of climate change to polar bear populations. Written by the Polar Bear Institute and Polar Bear International, the essay points to recent data showing a decline in the western Hudson Bay population due to earlier ice break-up and later freeze up, leading to a shorter sea ice season. After a 40 percent decline since 2001, there are signs of stabilization of the southern Beaufort Sea. Polar bears depend on sea ice to travel, hunt and mate.


Antarctic sea ice set to smash record

According to a recent report from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Antarctic sea ice is set to smash a record this year, as it’s currently at 7.6 million square miles and continuing to increase.

The Arctic, on the other hand, continues to lose ice. In fact, the NSIDC says that the minimum extent will be somewhat lower than last year’s, making it the sixth lowest extent in the satellite record.

According to the NSIDC, Arctic sea ice extent for September 15 was 1.96 million square miles, which is 11,600 square miles below the same date in 2013. However, Arctic sea ice extent remains low when examined in contrast with the long-term 1981 to 2010 average.