2023 Arctic Report Card proves ‘time for action is now’ on human-caused climate change, NOAA says

Not unlike the rest of the earth, this summer was the warmest on record in the Arctic, where scientists say human-caused climate change is warming things faster than anywhere else in the world. Significant consequences of that are already seen and felt in communities in and around the globe’s northernmost polar region, and their domino effects may end up being even more severe and widespread than they are now.

Citing its latest Arctic report card — an annual assessment of how the region is doing environmentally and released this week — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that ongoing carbon emissions, in the United States and beyond, will only continue to drive dramatic changes in the Arctic, which in turn contribute to extreme weather events in places far away. Agency officials urged people to take action.

“The overriding message from this year’s report is that the time for action is now,” Rick Spinrad, the administrator of NOAA, said in a announcement. “NOAA and our federal partners have increased our support and collaboration with state, tribal and local communities to help build climate resilience. At the same time, we as a nation and global community must dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving these changes.”

In its 18th year, the Arctic Report Card summarizes the work of 82 authors from 13 countries. Contributors to the latest edition shared several sharp tidbits, including the fact that summer Arctic surface air temperatures were the warmest observed in the Arctic since records began more than 100 years ago, as well as the fact that 2023 was the region’s sixth warmest year ever recorded.

The report came after the UN’s weather agency declared earlier this year that the planet had experienced its hottest three-month stretch on record over the summer, with experts drawing clear links between soaring temperatures and devastating wildfires burning vast swaths of land across of several continents and depleted air quality to an extent that threatened human health. And recently the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service announced that 2023 was globally the hottest year on recordalso.

Places inside and just outside the Arctic Circle faced consistent extreme weather conditions this year, the new report noted, as precipitation in those areas rose above long-term averages in all four seasons. Local communities and indigenous peoples across the polar region continued to suffer overall impacts from the environmental changes caused by climate change, it said. Storms of increasing intensity and frequency, as well as unpredictable fishing conditions that drastically affect the food security and livelihoods of Alaska Native peoples, are prominent examples.

The Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub contributed its observations to the 2023 Arctic Report Card for the first time. The observatory, which works with coastal indigenous observers to document long-term environmental changes and their impacts in northern Alaska, said the area has experienced “loss of sea ice, warmer air and ocean temperatures, changing wind patterns, and increased intensity and frequency of coastal storms.” , contributing to flooding and erosion.”

The Observatory noted that extreme weather has affected cultural infrastructure, traditional harvests and activities, and travel safety over land and sea. Included in the report was a message sent by an observer, Bobby Schaeffer, to the Alaska Observatory in September 2022, which said: “We had three powerful storms. The July 18th storm had the strongest winds. Southwest winds to 50 mph brought a storm surge , which set the record… Wind, huge surf and a lot of rain.The second storm hit us on July 28th and Merbok on September 14th [to 18]… I think we’ve lost more land to the sea than ever before.”

Changes in the Arctic region directly influenced some of the extreme weather this summer across large and more southern parts of North America, with experts linking “unprecedented” polar temperature increases to the warmer spring and early snowmelt across northern Canada that laid the foundation for its worst wildfire season to date.

Climate change is making forest fires more serious


The consequences may extend further, as the 2023 report showed a continued decrease in sea ice extent and melting at the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet — which has only happened five times in 34 years. A separate study on melting in Greenland, published in November, showed that the ice shelves in the region lost more than 1/3 of its volume in the last 50 years due to rising temperatures. If that trend continues, scientists warned of “dramatic consequences” for the planet, as Greenland’s ice sheet is one of the biggest contributors to rising sea levels worldwide.

The 2023 Arctic Report Card showed communities and organizations, like the Alaska Arctic Observatory, working on solutions to combat climate change and its far-reaching consequences.

In Finland, an organization called the Snowchange Cooperative has also helped create vast improvements to vast peatlands degraded by mining and industrial forestry. The rural Finnish and indigenous Sami communities were working with the organization to restore more than 100,000 acres of mined and drained Finnish peatland when the report was written. Another rural northern community in remote Svalbard, Norway – the fastest warming place on Earth – is also taking significant steps to reduce emissions which melts the surrounding glaciers.

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