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Arctic sees more signs of accelerating climate change

North Pole Melt Ponds (NOAA)This past summer might have seen more Arctic sea ice cover than in 2007 or 2008, but scientists continue to see dramatic — and accelerating — signs of climate change in the region, according to the latest Arctic Report Card.

The annual assessment is a collaborative effort of 71 national and international scientists.

“The Arctic is a special and fragile place on this planet,” said Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere and an administrator with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Climate change is happening faster in the Arctic than any other place on Earth — and with wide-ranging consequences. When I visited the northern corners of Alaska’s Arctic region earlier this year, I saw an area abundant with natural resources, diverse wildlife, proud local and native peoples — and a most uncertain future. This year’s Arctic Report Card underscores the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas pollution and adapting to climate changes already under way.”

Among the changes highlighted in the 2009 update to the Arctic report card were:

  • A change in large-scale wind patterns affected by the loss of summer sea ice;
  • The replacement of multi-year sea ice by first-year sea ice;
  • Warmer and fresher water in the upper ocean linked to new ice-free areas;
  • A continued loss of the Greenland ice sheet;
  • Less snow in North America and increased runoff in Siberia; and
  • The effect of the loss of sea ice on Arctic plant, animal, and fish species.

The Arctic Report Card is an annual assessment that was introduced by NOAA’s Climate Programme Office in 2006. The report card established a baseline of conditions in the region at the beginning of the 21st century, and the annual updates track and monitor the often quickly-changing conditions in the Arctic. Using a color-coded system of red to indicate consistent evidence of warming and yellow to indicate mixed signals about warming from climate indicators and species, the report card is updated annually in October and tracks Arctic data in six categories: atmosphere, sea ice, biology, ocean, land, and conditions in Greenland.

“The Arctic we see today is very different from the Arctic we saw even five years ago,” said Jackie Richter-Menge of the USACE Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, New Hampshire, and the report’s chief technical editor and contributing author. “It’s a warmer place with less thick and more mobile sea ice, warmer and fresher ocean water, and increased stress on caribou, reindeer, polar bears and walrus in some regions.”

The 2009 update to the report card reflects the contributions of an international team of 71 researchers from countries that include the US, Canada, UK Belgium, China, Denmark, Japan, The Netherlands and Russia.

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