2021 Arctic Report Card Tells a Human Story of Cascading Climate Disruption

The Arctic has been long portrayed as a remote end-of-the Earth place, far removed from our everyday experience. As the planet warms rapidly, what happens to this icy region? temperatures are rising twice as fast as the rest of the globeIt is affecting our lives in an increasing number around the world.

On December 14, 2021, a group of 111 scientists from 12 different countries released the 16th Annual. Arctic Report CardA yearly update on the Arctic system. We are Arctic scientistsThis peer-reviewed assessment was completed by the editors. In the report, we take a diverse look across the region’s interconnected physical, ecological and human components.

Like an annual checkup with a physician, the report assesses the Arctic’s vital signs – including surface air temperatures, sea surface temperatures, sea ice, snow cover, the Greenland ice sheet, greening of the tundra, photosynthesis rates by ocean algae – while inquiring into other indicators of health and emerging factors that shed light on the trajectory of Arctic changes.

As the report states, rapid and pronounced changes in human-caused climate continue to drive most of the changes and eventually is paving way for disruptions that impact ecosystems and communities across the globe.

Continued loss of ice

Arctic Sea ice – a central vital sign and one of the most iconic indicators of global climate change – is continuing to shrinkBelow freezing temperatures

Including data from 2021, 15 of the lowest summer sea ice extents – the point when the ice is at its minimum reach for the year – have all occurred in the last 15 yearsWithin a record dating back from 1979 when satellites began regularly monitoring this region.

The sea ice is also thinning at an alarming rate as the Arctic’s oldest and thickest multi-year ice disappears. This loss of sea ice diminishes the Arctic’s ability to cool the global climate. It can also alter lower latitude weather systemsThis makes previously rare and important weather events, such as droughts, heat waves, and extreme winter storms, more probable.

The same goes for the persistent melting of the Greenland ice sheetOther land-based ice is increasing sea levels around the world, increasing the risk of coastal flooding, disrupting drinking and waste water systems, as well as coastal erosion.

Comparison map shows that young, thin ice dominates today's ice pack
Graphic: NOAA climate.gov / NSIDC

A warmer, more temperate Arctic

The Arctic system is witness to this transition from ice and water, as well as its effects.

These are the eight major Arctic rivers discharging more freshwaterThe Arctic Ocean is a reflection of an Arctic-wide increase, as a result permafrost melt, precipitation and ice melting, in the amount of water that has escaped from land. Remarkably, the summit of the Greenland ice sheet – over 10,000 feet above sea level – experienced its first-ever observed rainfall during summer 2021.

These developments point towards a changing Arctic today. They also support the assertion that new modeling studiesThese numbers show the potential for the Arctic’s transition from a snow-dominated, rain-dominated system in summer or autumn by the time global temperature rises to only 1.5 degrees Celisus (2.7 F), above pre-industrial. The world has already warmed by 1.2 C (2.2 F).

A shift to more snow and rain would further transform landscapes, leading to faster glacier retreats as well as permafrost destruction. Permafrost melting can have a significant impact on ecosystems and other areas. adds to climate warmingBy allowing frozen animal and plant remains to decompose, additional greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

This year’s report highlights how retreating glaciers and deteriorating permafrost are also posing growing threats to human life through abrupt and localized flooding and landslides. It urges international coordination to identify these hazards. These threats will be amplified if there is more rain in the Arctic.

2021 Was Arctic's Warmest Year on Record
Graphic: NOAA Climate.gov/CS ERA5

Rising Human Impact

The Arctic’s observed changes and disruptions have had a direct impact on our daily lives and actions around the globe, as well as serving as stark reminders of the range of human-caused climate and ecosystem damage.

An Arctic Report Card essay beavers expanding northward into Arctic tundraExploiting new favorable conditions is an example of how species around world are moving as their habitats respond to climate changes. This case shows the need to develop new forms of collaborative monitoring to assess and monitor the scale of ecological transformations.

An essay on marine garbage from shipping washing ashore on the Bering Sea coastThis immediate threat to food security in the area reminds us that both micro-and macro-plastics in our oceans pose a threat to our food security. preeminent challenge of our time.

A report on shipping noise increasingly infiltrating the Arctic’s underwater marine soundscapeTo the detriment marine mammals, it is a call for conservation of the integrity of natural soundscapes around the world. For example, recent unrelated studyThe soundscapes of spring songbirds are being impacted by noise and biodiversity loss in North America and Europe, according to research.

But, an Arctic Report Card essay from members of the Indigenous Foods Knowledges Network highlights how, despite the continued climate threats to Arctic food systems, Alaska Indigenous communities weathered early pandemic disruptions to food security through their cultural values for sharing and “community-first” approaches.

Their cooperation and ability of adapting offer an important lesson to other similarly struggling communities worldwide.

An Arctic Connection to the Rest of the World

The Arctic Report Card collects observations from the circumpolar North and analyses them within a polar projection. This places the Arctic at its center, with all meridians reaching outwards to the rest.

2021 Artic-wide Highlights
The Arctic Report Card includes some information about the Arctic events of 2021.

In this view, the Arctic is tethered to societies worldwide through a myriad of exchanges – the natural circulation of air, ocean and contaminants, the migration of animals and invasive species, as well as human-driven transport of people, pollution, goods and natural resources. The Arctic’s warming is also allowing for greater marine accessAs sea ice melts, ships can travel further into Arctic waters and stay there for longer periods.

These facts demonstrate the importance of increased international cooperation in conservation and hazard mitigation as well as scientific research.

The Arctic has already seen unprecedented rapid environmental, social and economic changes. A more accessible Arctic will result in a world that is more tightly connected.