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Arctic Report Card

December 7, 2011

NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Arctic Report Card has just been update for 2011. The annual report is a comprehensive assessment on the state of the Arctic. It uses reliable datasets and indicators to report on both the Arctic ecosystem and climate.

The report considers a wide range of environmental observations throughout the Arctic and is updated annually. A major conclusion of the 2011 Report is that there are now a sufficient number of years of data to indicate a shift in the Arctic Ocean system since 2006. This shifted is characterized by the persistent decline in the thickness and summer extent of the sea ice cover, and a warmer, fresher upper ocean. As a result of increased open water area, biological productivity at the base of the marine food chain has increased and sea ice-dependent marine mammals continue to lose habitat.

Sea ice and ocean observations over the past decade suggest that the Arctic Ocean climate has reached a new state, with characteristics different than those observed previously. The new ocean climate has less sea ice (both thickness and summer extent) and, as a result, a warmer and fresher upper ocean. A clockwise ocean circulation regime has dominated the Arctic Ocean for at least 14 years (1997-2011), in contrast to the typical duration of a 5-8 year pattern of circulation shifts observed from 1948-1996.

In the Bering Sea, aragonite under-saturation, i.e., ocean acidification, throughout the water column is causing seasonal calcium carbonate mineral suppression in some areas.

The September 2011 Arctic sea ice extent was the second lowest of the past 30 years. The five lowest September ice extents having occurred in the past five years, suggesting that a shift to a new sea ice state continues. The amount of older, thicker multiyear ice continues to decrease and both the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage were ice-free in September.

Click here for the full report

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