Arctic Report Card: Dark Times Ahead

Nature

December 6, 2012

By Richard Monastersky

Conditions in the Arctic are slipping rapidly from bad to worse as the pace of climate change accelerates in that region. That’s the message from an annual environmental assessment of the far North, released on Wednesday...

...According to the report, the Arctic broke a string of environmental records this past year. The summertime sea ice pack was the smallest ever seen. The amount of Northern Hemisphere snow in June hit the lowest mark on record. Virtually the entire Greenland Ice Cap showed some evidence of surface melting for the first time in observations going back to 1979. And permafrost temperatures on the North Slope of Alaska topped previous highs, said Martin O. Jeffries, a co-editor of the Arctic report and the Arctic science advisor at the Office of Naval Research. “If we’re not there already, we’re surely on the verge of seeing a new Arctic,” he said.

The widespread reduction in snow and ice cover in summertime has darkened the ocean surface and land in the Arctic, allowing it to absorb more sunlight, which leads to enhanced warming. “The Arctic is one of Earth’s mirrors and that mirror is breaking,” said Donald Perovich, an Arctic researcher at Dartmouth, who participated in the report.

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