Dec 14, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Arctic rapidly turning warmer, wetter and riskier: report

Temperature departures from average between Sept. 2021 and Oct. 2022 for the Arctic.

Temperature departures from average between Sept. 2021 and Oct. 2022 for the Arctic. Image: NOAA

ChicagoRapid Arctic warming is causing compounding and sweeping changes throughout the region, with Arctic residents facing increasingly perilous conditions, according to a new report.

Why it matters: The Arctic is a sentinel for the Northern Hemisphere’s climate stability, and it is flashing red.

The big picture: The peer-reviewed 2022 Arctic Report Card was released Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, and is the work of 147 scientists from 11 countries.

  • The new data highlights the cascading changes throughout Arctic ecosystems.
  • For example, snow cover is melting earlier in spring, allowing for the Arctic fire season to get an earlier, more destructive start and affect new areas.
  • There is a "blending of the seasons" in the Arctic as timing of certain events shifts. This affects residents who may face thinner lake and sea ice cover when they venture out to hunt or travel, lead author Matthew Druckenmiller of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told Axios in an interview.
  • "The rules for survival are changing in the Arctic," Druckenmiller said.

By the numbers: For the first time, scientists found that the entire Arctic region is becoming wetter, with the heaviest 1-day and 5-day precipitation events also increasing at a statistically significant rate throughout the Far North.

  • For example, Utqiagvik, Alaska, the northernmost community in the U.S., saw its heaviest precipitation fall in a single day, with 1.42 inches on July 26.
  • The increasingly open and milder Arctic Ocean waters are adding more moisture to the air, and a warmer atmosphere can also hold more water vapor.
  • Overall, this past year (Oct. 2021-Sept. 2022) was the 6th-warmest on record in the Arctic since 1900, and the past seven years have been the seven warmest.

Between the lines: Alaska and other parts of the Arctic should expect seemingly freak events to occur more frequently as climate change continues, Druckenmiller said.

  • Such occurrences in 2022 included a storm in Fairbanks that encased the city in 1.4 inches of ice, wreaking havoc on transportation, and a record September melt spike on the Greenland Ice Sheet.
  • Even more damaging was a hybrid storm that evolved from Typhoon Merbok in the Pacific in September and gathered intensity over record warm waters.
  • When it slammed into western Alaska, storm surge flooding devastated coastal communities.

What's next: "These continuously record-breaking years are turning the accelerated rate of climate change in the Arctic into 'a new normal' rate of change," said Sue Natali, an Arctic research scientist who was not directly involved in the report.

  • "This is especially concerning because it's causing increasingly severe climate hazards for the people of the Arctic and globally."

A Russia-sized gap threatens Arctic science

The intrigue: Cooperation with Russian researchers remains frozen, with no thaw in sight, though scientists are hopeful they can eventually resume vital collaborations.

  • The seven non-Russian Arctic nations closed off their research institutions in response to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
  • For now, remote sensing and internationally shared ground observations are allowing insights to continue to flow.

Yes, but: But the longer this goes on, the greater the chances that significant trends will be missed, with the biggest concerns related to studies of permafrost thaw and wildfire research.

  • Some Russian scientists, for example, are having trouble importing equipment to keep observatories functioning, Natali, who oversees the Woodwell Climate Research Center's Arctic program, told Axios via email.
  • "There are restrictions on data being shared outside Russia. Given the importance of permafrost thaw for global climate," Natali said.
  • "I don't think permafrost research should be restricted by national boundaries, so I hope there will be a pathway for scientific collaborations to resume in the near future."
Go deeper