Story at a glance
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2020 Arctic Report Card found that the annual land surface air temperature from October 2019 through September 2020 was the second-highest on record since at least 1900.
- Temperatures were 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the baseline average for 1981-2010.
- Sea ice loss in 2020 was particularly high, with the end of summer sea ice extent hitting the second-lowest in the 42-year satellite record.
The Arctic is rapidly transforming into a hotter, less frozen and biologically changed region faster than researchers expected, scientists said in an annual assessment of the planet’s northern polar region.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2020 Arctic Report Card, compiled by 133 scientists from 15 countries, found that the annual land surface air temperature from October 2019 through September 2020 was 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the baseline average for 1981-2010, and was the second-highest on record since at least 1900. Only 2016 experienced higher temperatures.
Meanwhile, Siberia saw temperatures 5.4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit above average during winter and spring.
Sea ice loss in 2020 was particularly high, with the end of summer sea ice extent hitting the second-lowest in the 42-year satellite record. The massive Greenland ice sheet and glaciers in Alaska lost mass at above-average rates. The rate in Greenland, however, slowed from 2019.
Extreme wildfires in Russia’s Sakha Republic also coincided with unparalleled warm air temperatures and record snow loss, while permafrost continued to thaw and erode along Arctic coastlines.
“Nearly everything in the Arctic, from ice and snow to human activity, is changing so quickly that there is no reason to think that in 30 years much of anything will be as it is today,” Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska and contributor to the report, told The New York Times.
As the Earth continues to heat up due to human emissions of greenhouse gases, the Arctic is heating up more than twice as quickly as other parts of the planet, raising sea levels and playing a role in more frequent extreme weather events.
“The story is ambiguous,” researchers wrote in the report. “The transformation of the Arctic to a warmer, less frozen, and biologically changed region is well underway.”
The report comes as the United Nations World Meteorological Organization estimated this year will be among the three hottest on record globally, while the years 2015 through 2020 are forecast to be the six warmest ever.
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