At the end of 2016, the Arctic will have endured its hottest year on record — in a period that goes back to 1900.
That’s according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s annual Arctic report card, which rounds up the key events of the last year in the polar north. The report also found that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The ongoing warming and melting in that region is more significant than anywhere else in the world.
Why? The Arctic ice acts like a massive temperature regulator for the whole planet. Its white ice reflects heat back into space. Remove enough of it, and more heat infiltrates that darker ocean or land surface. That makes it harder for the Arctic to recover what it’s lost, and speeds warming across the whole planet.
And the report highlights another key finding: Melting in the far north both absorbs and releases carbon from the atmosphere. The Arctic absorbs carbon when tundra gets warm enough to sprout plant life, which pulls carbon dioxide from the air. But it also releases carbon dioxide when permafrost melts. And — here’s the critical bit — that release turns out to be significantly greater than the absorption.
This should also be expected to impact the climate.
And 2016 has already been outlandish in terms of climate change. After a period between 2013 and 2015 when warming slowed and sea ice was relatively stable, the ever-less-icy north began smashing records again.
In addition to notching the highest annual sea surface temperature on record, 2016 saw the warmest January, February, October, and November ever. Sea ice extents neared all time lows, tying 2007 for the second lowest extent in the satellite record dating back to 1979. Spring snow cover in the North American Arctic was the lowest in the satellite record dating back to 1967. Additionally, Greenland’s ice began melting earlier in the spring than in all other years on record but one.
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