As humans warm the planet, the once reliably frigid and frozen Arctic is becoming wetter and stormier, with shifts in its climate and seasons that are forcing local communities, wildlife and ecosystems to adapt, scientists said Tuesday in an annual assessment of the region.
Even though 2022 was only the Arctic’s sixth warmest year on record, researchers saw plenty of new signs this year of how the region is changing.
A September heat wave in Greenland, for instance, caused the most severe melting of the island’s ice sheet for that time of the year in over four decades of continuous satellite monitoring. In 2021, an August heat wave had caused it to rain at the ice sheet’s summit for the first time.
“Insights about the circumpolar region are relevant to the conversation about our warming planet now more than ever,” said Richard Spinrad, administrator of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We’re seeing the impacts of climate change happen first in polar regions.”
Temperatures in the Arctic Circle have been rising much more quickly than those in the rest of the planet, transforming the region’s climate into one defined less by sea ice, snow and permafrost and more by open water, rain and green landscapes.
Nearly 150 experts from 11 nations compiled this year’s assessment of Arctic conditions, the Arctic Report Card, which NOAA has produced since 2006. This year’s report card was issued Tuesday.
Between October 2021 and September, air temperatures above Arctic lands were the sixth warmest since 1900, the report card said, noting that the seven warmest years have been the last seven. Rising temperatures have helped plants, shrubs and grasses grow in parts of the Arctic tundra, and 2022 saw levels of green vegetation that were the fourth highest since 2000, particularly in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, northern Quebec and central Siberia.
Indicators of sea ice rebounded this year after near-record-lows in 2021, but they were still below long-term averages, the assessment found. March is typically when the ice is at its greatest extent each year, September its lowest. At both points this year, ice levels were among the lowest since satellites have been making reliable measurements.