Melting Arctic ice, rising temps seen as planet warms

2014-12-17 21:54

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Miami - Record high temperatures in Alaska, below average snow cover across the Arctic and excess summer ice melting in Greenland were observed this year by scientists, raising new concerns about global warming.

The annual Arctic Report Card, compiled by 63 scientists in 13 countries and updated each year, was released on Wednesday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

"Arctic warming is setting off changes that affect people and the environment in this fragile region, and has broader effects beyond the Arctic on global security, trade, and climate," said Craig McLean, acting assistant administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Air temperature in the Arctic continued to get warmer compared to the average of the past 30 years, which is important because these air temperatures act as both an indicator and driver of regional and global changes.

"The Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of lower latitudes," said the report, indicating that the trend known as Arctic Amplification is continuing.

There were some small improvements last year, including a slight thickening of ice in the Arctic and only the sixth lowest amount of sea ice since satellite observations began in 1979.

However, the report said that ongoing study has found that year-to-year and regional differences in air temperatures over time are often "due to natural random variability".

The report spans October 2013 to September 2014. In that time frame, there were extreme cold temperatures in eastern North America and central Russia, along with unusually warm air in Alaska and northern Europe.

"Alaska recorded temperature anomalies more than 10°C higher than the January average," it said.

Snow cover across the Arctic during the spring was below the 1981-2010 average, and new record lows were seen in April for Eurasia.

North America's snow cover in June was the third lowest on record, and "snow disappeared three to four weeks earlier than normal in western Russia, Scandinavia, the Canadian subarctic and western Alaska due to below average accumulation and above normal spring temperatures", it said.

Despite a slight boost to ice thickness in the Arctic compared with 2013, there is "still much less of the oldest, thickest (greater than 4m) and most resilient ice than in 1988".

Back then, the oldest ice made up 26% of the ice pack; now it is just 10%.

Sea surface temperatures across the Arctic increased, particularly in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska, where temperatures are increasing at a rate of 0.5°C per decade.

For most of the summer, melting along the Greenland ice sheet was above average, though the total mass of the ice sheet remained unchanged between 2013 and 2014.

Read more on:    us  |  climate change

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