Warmer, wetter conditions continue to transform Arctic, impact its inhabitants: Arctic Report Card

Icebergs floating in Disko Bay, Ilulissat, western Greenland. (Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)

Higher air temperatures and lower sea ice cover continue to transform the Arctic, says the Arctic Report Card 2022 released on Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States. 

“Many observations throughout the Report Card are organized within periods of the year defined by predictable climatological or ecological conditions (e.g., the “snow season” or the “breeding season” for a particular animal species),” says the report’s executive summary.

“These periods are shifting, and in turn, altering ecological and landscape processes, and increasingly misaligning with human expectations and decision-making.”

The report card, put out annually since 2006, is a peer-reviewed publication that seeks to give a yearly overview of the changing Arctic.

This year’s edition included contributions from 147 experts from 11 countries.

Temperature, sea ice extent lower than long-term averages 

A wetter, warming Arctic continued to be a trend amongst the findings.

The annual surface air temperature in the Arctic from  Oct.  2021-Sept.  2022 was the sixth warmest dating back to 1900, the report said, and these  warmer temperatures continue to be a strong driver of decreasing ice thickness and extent. 

“Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) was higher than many recent years, but much lower than the long-term average,” NOAA said in a news release on Tuesday. 

“Multiyear ice extent, sea-ice thickness and volume rebounded after a near-record low in 2021, but was below conditions in the 1980s and 1990s, with older ice extremely rare.”

When it comes to lake ice formation, striking differences were also noticed in Canada.

“Freeze-up occurred later than the 2004-20 average for most of North America (except for western Alaska), with notably later freeze in Canada (~10-20 days later), where warmer temperatures and more snow free days were noted in the fall,” the report said.

An anti-avalanche wall built to protect houses in Longyearbyen—in the Svalbard Archipelago in Arctic Norway—after a deadly 2015 avalanche. In Svalbard, climate change is causing shorter winters, yo-yo temperatures, permafrost thawing and more frequent precipitation, increasingly in the form of rain, all conditions that increase the risk of avalanches and landslides. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images)

In addition, the Arctic is also becoming wetter with scientists recording significant increases in heavy precipitation in the North Atlantic subarctic and more consecutive wet days in the Central Arctic, coupled by fewer consecutive dry days.

“Wetter-than-normal conditions predominated over much of the Arctic during the October 2021 through September 2022 water year, which was the 3rd wettest of the past 72 years,” the report said.

“A significant increase in Arctic precipitation since the mid-20th century is now detectable across seasons and datasets.”

Greenland ice sheet

The state of Greenland’s ice sheet is closely followed because of the impacts on sea level rise that its melting contributes to.

From September 2021 to August 2022 its total mass change  was equivalent to ~0.4 mm of sea level rise representing the 25th consecutive year of ice loss, the report said.

Cold temperatures delayed the ice sheet’s 2022 summer ice loss, but it still underwent what the report describes as “unprecedented late-season melt events” elsewhere in the year.

“During September 2022, the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced unprecedented late-season melt events, including surface melt conditions across 36% of the ice sheet surface on 3 September, including at Summit Station (3216 m above sea level in the ice sheet interior),” the report said.

Meltwater flows from the Greenland ice sheet into Baffin Bay near Pituffik, Greenland. (Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)

Increased shipping raises question on ecosystem impacts

The decrease in sea ice is leading to increased shipping in many areas of the Arctic, something that will have its own impacts on northern environments and ecosystems, the report’s authors said. 

Using satellite-based records looking at maritime transport between Sept 2009 to Dec 2018, researchers found that maritime ship traffic increased in the waters of all coastal Arctic nations.

“The increasing number of ships over time in all national and international maritime jurisdictions north of the Arctic Circle raises diverse questions about relative ship-traffic changes and characteristics within as well as between regions seasonally and interannually in view of socioeconomic impacts and the dynamics of natural systems,” the report said.

Arctic residents living change first hand

The environmental changes the Arctic is undergoing has implications for the global community, but is already affecting Arctic residents first hand, the report said.

Hunters from the Arctic Canadian community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and researchers from the University of Calgary collect samples from a muskox on Victoria Island in 2016 for a research project. Collaborations between scientists and harvesters and gatherers in Indigenous communities is increasingly seen as key to understanding climate change in the North. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Arctic Indigenous peoples who still rely on the land for food, culture and transportation are already being forced to adapt to the changes in their environment, altering harvesting patterns and forcing hunters to travel longer and further for food.

“Living and innovating in Arctic environments over millennia, Indigenous peoples have evolved holistic knowledge that provides resilience and sustainability,” said Jackie Qatalina Schaeffer, a co-author of the report’s chapter “Consequences of Rapid Environmental Arctic Change for People,” director of Climate Initiatives for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and an Inupiaq from Kotzebue, Alaska.

“Addressing the unprecedented environmental change requires listening to one another, aligning values and collaborating together as communities, businesses, governments, Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientists and decision-makers.” 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Indigenous-led conservation key to ensuring biodiversity goals says ICC, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finns increasingly worried about biodiversity loss, especially abroad, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: Marine ecosystem off Southeast Greenland may have crossed tipping point, says study, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Climate, integration & Arctic among priorities in Iceland’s Nordic Council of Ministers program, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Thawing permafrost melts ground under homes and around Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: 30–50% of critical northern infrastructure could be at high risk by 2050 due to warming, says study, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden not doing enough to protect biodiversity, new report shows, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska villages facing erosion, flooding receive relocation grants, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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