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NOAA’s arctic report card shows stronger effects of warming in Greenland and permafrost

By Joe Romm  

"NOAA’s arctic report card shows stronger effects of warming in Greenland and permafrost"

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released its annual Arctic report card with grim findings:

Temperature increases, a near-record loss of summer sea ice, and a melting of surface ice in Greenland are among some of the evidence of continued warming in the Arctic, according to an annual review of conditions in the Arctic issued today by NOAA….

One example of these changes in arctic climate is the autumn air temperatures which are at a record 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) above normal, because of the major loss of sea ice in recent years. The loss of sea ice allows more solar heating of the ocean. That warming of the air and ocean affects land and marine life, and reduces the amount of winter sea ice that lasts into the following summer. The year 2007 was the warmest on record for the Arctic, continuing a general Arctic-wide warming trend that began in the mid-1960s.

Significantly, NASA attempts to include some of this astonishing Arctic warming in its global temperature data set, whereas the UK’s Hadley Center excludes this area — a key reason NASA estimates “2005 was the warmest since records began, with 1998 and 2007 tied in second place” whereas Hadley has 1998 as the warmest year on record (see “Yes, the planet has kept warming since 1998“). The misperception that the planet stopped warming in 1998 stems more from our limited number of temperature stations in the Arctic than from any genuine trend.

The TV coverage I saw of the NOAA report (on ABC tonight) emphasized the Greenland results:

Warming has continued around Greenland in 2007, culminating in record setting (since 1970s) melt area and amplified absorption of solar radiation. Greenland’s largest glacier, among a majority of others, continued its retreat. The ice sheet lost at least 100 cubic km (24 cubic miles) of ice, making it one of the largest single contributors to global sea level rise.

But I think the tundra report is at least as significant, since we know that the rapid loss of the Arctic sea ice and the soaring Arctic temperatures is accelerating us toward the most dangerous climate threshold (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“). As a recent study found, “simulated western Arctic land warming trends during rapid sea ice loss are 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate-change trends. The accelerated warming signal penetrates up to 1500 km inland.”

That was a simulation. NOAA’s report card has an analysis that confirms the grim reality on the ground:

Land-based observations, while widely ranging, reflect the effects of a general warming trend. For instance, there was an increase in the relative greenness of the Arctic region, consistent with warming soil and air temperatures, earlier snow melt, and the expansion of shrubs and tree line to the north. Permafrost continues to warm… There is a continued tendency for a decrease in the snow cover of the Northern Hemisphere in the months of April through October….

Observations show a general increase in permafrost temperatures during the last several decades in Alaska, northwest Canada, Siberia, and northern Europe…. All of the [Alaskan] observatories show a substantial warming during the last 20 yr (Fig. L3). The detailed characteristic of the warming varies between locations, but is typically from 0.5° to 2°C at the depth of zero seasonal temperature variations in permafrost. These data also indicate that the increase in permafrost temperatures is not monotonic…. However, 2007 data show a noticeable increase in the temperature at 20-m depth by 0.2°C at the two northernmost sites of Deadhorse and West Dock. Permafrost temperature did not change significantly at the other North Slope sites. This may indicate a new wave of permafrost warming similar to the warming that started in 1994, which also started at the Deadhorse and West Dock sites and only later appeared at the interior sites.

Here are some temperature series from northern Alaska:

Location of the long-term University of Alaska permafrost observatories in northern Alaska and changes in permafrost temperatures

Figure L3. (top) Location of the long-term University of Alaska permafrost observatories in northern Alaska. West Dock is at Prudhoe Bay. (bottom) Changes in permafrost temperatures at 20-m depth during the last 25 to 30 yr (updated from Osterkamp 2003).

This evidence for a new wave of permafrost warming starting last year supports other evidence reported in the recent literature (see “NOAA: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Methane Rise Sharply in 2007” and “Has runaway climate change begun?“).

That recent evidence suggests the Siberian permafrost may be undergoing more rapid destruction than the Alaskan permafrost, which is also supported by this temperature map from the report card’s atmospheric analysis:

Near surface air temperature anomaly map for October and November for recent years

Figure A2. Near surface air temperature anomaly map for October and November for recent years with a reduced sea ice cover, 2005–2007. Data are from the NCEP — NCAR reanalysis through the NOAA/Earth Systems Research Laboratory.

Clearly, the permafrost region of northern and northeastern Russia has experienced tremendous warming in the autumn over the past few years.

The time to act is yesterday.

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17 Responses to NOAA’s arctic report card shows stronger effects of warming in Greenland and permafrost

  1. David B. Benson says:

    Not is. Was.

  2. paulm says:

    Good bye cold world your leaving us today!

  3. mauri pelto says:

    It is worth noting that this summer there was record length to the melt season in northern Greenland, not for all of Greenland. That the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf and Markham Ice Shelf partially disintegrated and the Petermann Glacier also had trouble. These are all peripheral to the Arctic Ocean where sea ice loss has amplified warming according to a recent publication by Sereeze and others (http://www.the-cryosphere-discuss.net/2/601/2008/tcd-2-601-2008.pdf). The latter four could all be coincidental, but are also just what one would expect. When the actual regional temp. records and changes in temp. with altitude are examined the reality can be determened.

  4. Jim Katcavage says:

    The report hightlights the record Greenland ice melt and that melt being one of the largest contributors to sea level rise. Providing a little perspective, the 24 million cubic mile melt lowers the ice sheet two inches. The ice sheet is several thousand feet thick. The sea level rise from this melt, if continued for 100 years, would raise sea levels about 1 inch.

  5. Richard says:

    Jim:

    You’re right, that isn’t scary at all. Whew! Thanks, man.

    But then again, aren’t those pesky and inconvenient scientists suggesting that climate change will be more dramatic in a few years, so Greenland will melt faster. And aren’t those same scientists suggesting that thermal expansion of water is going to play a big role in sea level rises?

    So if even if the point you’re trying to make is accurate, so what?

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Jim Katcavage — The current, best infomred estimate of sea level rise, from all causes, by 2100 CE is 80 cm, most likely, but possibly as much as 2 meters.

    Even the 0.8 m estimate means there are serious problems ahead.

  7. alex says:

    It is hard to look at the graphs and know for sure that there is a problem and certainly in the last 10 years there have been no big peaks to get excited about.

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/research/2007/ann/global-jan-dec-error-bar-pg.gif

    Climate change seems to have come off the agenda a bit in the last year or so. The media will only start to get excited again if (when) temperatures resume their upward trend.

  8. As a person living in the north, actually exactly on the Arctic Circle in Sweden, and through my whole life (51 years) experiencing in what way melting of snow and ice each spring happens I must say that I have become very worried the last 5-6 years.

    There is a very obvious trend in the situation we have experienced the last winters, the winters are not winters any more. In my childhood there NEVER rained in wintertime, now there are rains every month. One of those scientific evidence there is about the weather changing is the graphs from The Swedish Weather Survey (SMHI) http://www.smhi.se/sgn0102/maps/avv_day_200712.htm
    That on showing December 2007, that was a very warm month.

    I know one should not mix weather and climate because they are two different things. But this is actually happening NOW and with the background that we people in the Arctic have of how snow and ice melts these scientific reports are very scary. The speed of melting increases often very rapidly and not lineary.

    We never can afford a run away climate change and the situation must be taken very seriosly, it is not an academic debate, it is really happening now.

  9. Jim Katcavage says:

    Richard – Thanks for the condescending reply. My point was the report should have put these numbers in perspective regarding where we are and where we are heading. I thought they did a poor job of communicating the melt numbers.

    David – No arguement here regarding the long term estimates of sea level rise.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Urpo Taskinen — Thank you for your comment. I urge you to post much the same on many different blogs, starting with DotEarth.

  11. Dano says:

    David, that idea will open Urpo to a bunch of hate-filled comments from the usual dozen or so suspects at DotEarth. We know what is happening, and the power of personalized feelings helps, but Urpo should know what he’s up against.

    Best,

    D

  12. David B. Benson says:

    Urpo Taskinen — Better read Dano’s warning. Still, I do hope you will communication your unusual perspective.

  13. Richard says:

    Jim K Wrote: – Richard: Thanks for the condescending reply.

    Touché. My apologies…

    Your point wasn’t at all clear; and I’m too quick to assume that contrary opinions are just trying to muddy the waters. I’ll make a better effort to take a few minutes before hitting the submit button next time.

  14. Richard says:

    Urpo…

    I can say the same thing, although I don’t live in the arctic circle. Just Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.

    Our climate has changed dramatically over the last seven or eight years. I remember the winters of my youth, when we played hockey on snow covered streets for months, and how the lakes would freeze over in time for Christmas holidays, and we’d play hockey until it became too dark to see the puck.

    Kids can’t do that anymore. Often the lakes don’t freeze until February, so they enjoy a few weeks of shinny or figure skating, at best. We have green Christmases now (in 2006, it was 68 and foggy), and snow only falls usually only falls three or four times each winter. American robins return in February, and a few great blue herons don’t bother migrating every fall.

    I used to be a wine writer before illness nipped that in the bud (no pun intended). We’ve had a few wineries in the province since the 1980s, and they mostly made unpalatable, high-acid, simple wines. Now they’re making some tasty quaffs — not world-class, but easy to drink — including some decent Chardonnay and Riesling.

    Perhaps that’s why almost 78 percent of Atlantic Canadians believe that climate change is real. But most have no idea of how bad it could get.

  15. Dano says:

    Most people above, say, 30-32º N have similar stories of changing seasons, in my view. Especially gardeners. The GF and I deal with America’s Master Gardeners quite often, and she has many clients that are Master Gardeners. There is no question among most gardeners that it is warming. None. Not even debated in most circles. Many of us have our own little jokey phrases about denying climate change. And the older the gardener, usually the better certainty of changes.

    And I think the professional Denial Industry knows this, thus their casting doubt on the man-madeness as their main thrust. Sure, you’ll see slow-witted credulous dupes (like that Patrick Henry at DotEarth) who pass on the occasional try at casting doubt on warming, but that’s out of ignorance and not malice.

    Best,

    D

  16. Bruce says:

    We live in California’s central valley and I have a year-around vegetable garden. I’ve been doing this for about 30 years. Our winter weather is warmer than it was even ten years ago. We no longer get hard frosts that freeze oranges solid on the trees. Genuine frosts, as opposed to frosts caused by night-sky radiation have become uncommon, occurring only once every two or three years. Six or seven years ago, only the most cold-hardy varieties of tomato could be planted outdoors, unprotected, in March, because an end-of-March frost was a regular occurrence. The past couple of winters, almost any tomato variety could have been planted in early February. I did it last year and they survived.

    Amateur horticulturalists are now experimenting with many kinds of semi-tropical ornamentals that die back in the winter but grow back the following summer, as long as the ground doesn’t get too cold.

  17. paulm says:

    Who needs sophisticated models…

    …blooming daffodils fooled into thinking it’s spring
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1079966/Pictured-The-blooming-daffodils-fooled-thinking-spring.html

    Winter has yet to arrive – but for five-year-old Spencer here, it’s already spring.
    Daffodils have been bursting into life at the market garden his grandparents Celia and Roger Haywood run in Bremhill, Wiltshire.
    The couple spotted the bright yellow flowers springing up down the sides of her driveway at the end of last month.
    ….
    ‘They started to appear at the end of last month but now they are in full bloom. Our driveway is about 75 yards long and the daffodils are growing all the way along it.’