The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks changes in the environment and has released the Arctic Report Card: Update for 2012. Based on multiple observations, the report finds “strong evidence of widespread, sustained change driving Arctic environmental system into new state,” and highlights the following:
Record low snow extent and low sea ice extent occurred in June and September, respectively.
Growing season length is increasing along with tundra greenness and above-ground biomass. Below the tundra, record high permafrost temperatures occurred in northernmost Alaska. Duration of melting was the longest observed yet on the Greenland ice sheet, and a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event occurred in July.
Massive phytoplankton blooms below summer sea ice suggest previous estimates of ocean primary productivity might be ten times too low. Arctic fox is close to extinction in Fennoscandia and vulnerable to further changes in the lemming cycle and the encroaching Red fox.
Severe weather events included extreme cold and snowfall in Eurasia, and two major storms with deep central pressure and strong winds offshore of western and northern Alaska.
This year also marks the first time that there has been less than 4 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles) of sea ice since satellite observations began in 1979. Visualization here.
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As countries surrounding the freshly exposed waters in the Arctic region are poised to claim the areas for commercial fishing and other exploits, more than 2000 scientists have signed an open letter begging for a moratorium on the use of natural resources in the area, until ecological studies are completed. The warming climate trend has melted a 2.8 million km square of ice in an international waters area, and raised policy concerns.
According to the recent U.S. Geological Survey, the region holds significant oil and natural gas reserves. Melting ice cover would facilitate the exploitation of these resources and open up access to fish stocks and particularly new shipping routes, which promise shorter distances for trade between
Europe and East Asia. On the other hand, the melting of the Arctic’s ice cap, while increasing the region’s geopolitical and geo-economic importance, significantly exacerbates its environmental fragility, threatens the traditional way of life of the indigenous population and increases the potential for conflict in the region.
What countries stand to profit from Arctic ice melt? Kefferpütz and Bochkarev explain:
Besides the Arctic 5 countries (A5) that encircle the North Pole (United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark and Greenland), the European Union has signalled a clear interest in the region.
Commissioners Piebalgs and Borg have both stressed the need to tap the region’s natural resources while the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, acknowledged the Arctic in his recent report on climate change and international security.
The authors point out that the mixture of power and resources could well result in militarization of the new Arctic zone, meaning that climate change and international security will likely be connected in the future. China and Japan are also involved, with Japan funding research for Arctic-class tankers. Legal issues, area governance and regulations are complex and will likely be the topic of concern and discussion among policymakers and international lawyers. Currently, no clear regulations are in place.
Meanwhile, the newly exposed area contains a new and fragile ecosystem. Scientists have insufficient data at this point on what is in the ecosystem, let alone the impact of removing what is there through commercial fishing, for example.
The authors note that the New Arctic zone has fish stocks, metals and likely the world’s largest untapped hydrocarbon (oil) reserves. They also predict “Heavy militarisation, a relic of the Cold War, remains an important challenge for the foreseeable future, particularly in the context of policies pursued by Russia, the U.S. and Canada.”
Will the scientists be kicked to the curb in the name of money? Will the Arctic be kicked to the curb in the name of money?
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