This Tuesday, on December 11, 2018, at the same time that the COP24 is about to conclude in Katowice, Poland, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) released its annual international Arctic report card (the “Report”) reflecting on a range of land, ice, and ocean observations made throughout the Arctic during the 2018 calendar year. The Report includes a series of 14 essays prepared by more than 80 scientists from 12 countries and it underlines the changes that are continuing to occur in the Arctic environmental system in relation with climate change.
As the Report shows and as reported by the media, “the Arctic is experiencing the most unprecedented transition in human history”.
It is underlined that, in 2018, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at roughly twice the rate compared to the rest of the world. It is also noted that the year 2018 was the second warmest year on record in the Arctic since 1900 (after 2016) and that Arctic air temperatures for the past five years (2014-18) have exceeded all previous records since 1900.
The Report further indicates that such continued warming of the Arctic in 2018 is an indicator of both regional and global climate change and a driver of broad Arctic environmental change. Scientists explains that atmospheric warming continued to drive broad, long-term trends in declining terrestrial snow cover, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and lake ice, increasing summertime Arctic river discharge, and the expansion and greening of Arctic tundra vegetation. Despite the growth of vegetation available for grazing land animals, herd populations of caribou and wild reindeer across the Arctic tundra have declined by nearly 50% over the last two decades.
According to the Report, the Arctic is no longer returning to the extensively frozen region of recent past decades—in 2018 Arctic sea ice remained thinner and covered less area than in the past. Also, Warming Arctic Ocean conditions are coinciding with an expansion of harmful algae species responsible for toxic algal blooms (which have been found in the tissues of Arctic clams, seals, walrus, and whales and other marine organisms).