What's New Archive
NOAA’s 2021 Arctic Report Card, released today at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting, documents the numerous ways that climate change continues to fundamentally alter this once reliably-frozen region, as increasing heat and the loss of ice drive its transformation into a warmer, less frozen, and more uncertain future.
The Arctic continues to warm more than twice as fast as the rest of the globe. The October-December 2020 period was the warmest Arctic autumn on record dating back to 1900. The average surface air temperature over the Arctic this past year (October 2020-September 2021) was the 7th warmest on record.
The total extent of sea ice in September 2021 was the 12th lowest on record. All 15 of the lowest minimum extents have occurred in the last 15 years. The substantial decline in Arctic ice extent since 1979 is one of the most iconic indicators of climate change.
Some of the fastest rates of ocean acidification around the world have been observed in the Arctic Ocean. Two recent studies indicate a high occurrence of severe dissolution of shells in natural populations of sea snails, an important forage species, in the Bering Sea and Amundsen Gulf.
The Arctic Report Card is an original, peer-reviewed environmental observations and analysis that documents rapid and dramatic shifts in weather, climate, terrestrial and oceanic conditions in the circumpolar region. This year’s report was compiled by 111 scientists from 12 nations. PMEL and UW Cooperative Institute scientists contributed to sections on surface air temperature (Dr. James Overland, Dr. Muyin Wang), sea ice (Dr. Kevin Wood) and on ocean acidification (Dr. Jessica Cross, Dr. Darren Pilcher).
After spending 8 months under water and ice, two of NOAA’s three Arctic-deployed pop-up floats have successfully surfaced in the Chukchi Sea and are transmitting data on temperature, pressure, photosynthetic active radiation (PAR), and chlorophyll fluorescence. These data are from measurements taken while the float is anchored to the seafloor, while it rises through the water column, and while it is trapped under the ice at the water-ice boundary.
The two floats were initially deployed in the fall of 2020 by the scientists and crew of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. These are part of the 4th cohort of deployments since 2017, and the second cohort deployed in the Chukchi Sea. The first float to surface has transmitted data from the four months it spent on the seafloor, just over a month of data from when it was trapped under ice, and about half of the photos it took while under ice. The second float has transmitted about five months of data from the seafloor, just over four months of data from under the ice along with the under-ice photos it captured, and 7 days of open ocean sea surface temperature.
Pop-up floats provide an inexpensive method to explore a unique micro-ecosystem under floating ice. The floats collect ocean health data to help researchers better understand the rapidly changing Arctic ecosystem. They collect data during the ice-covered winter and spring months, a time during which it isn’t possible for researchers to penetrate the ice from above to study the water underneath. The water column data they collect on their rise up from seafloor to surface is essential for researchers to monitor ongoing ecosystem changes in the Arctic, such as watching for harmful algal blooms and documenting biodiversity in the environment. The floats can also help researchers measure the extent of the cold pool, an area of cold water about 30 meters deep that results from melting Arctic ice from the previous season.
NOAA PMEL began development of these floats in 2015. The float is an orange sphere equipped with sensors to measure temperature, pressure, and other ocean conditions as well as cameras to capture under ice imagery. It is deployed during the ice-free summer months and anchors to the seafloor measuring bottom-ocean conditions. It stays here collecting measurements throughout the winter and early spring. It then rises up through the water column at a pre-programmed time, in this case early March to mid-April, capturing data at various depths to create a profile of the water column. The floats are then trapped under ice when it reaches the surface, and will continue collecting data and images of conditions at the water-ice boundary. When the ice melts in mid-May and early June, the floats can emerge fully from the ice to reach the surface and begin transmitting their stored data, while continuing to monitor sea surface temperature.
NOAA’s 15th Arctic Report Card catalogs for 2020 the numerous ways that climate change continues to disrupt the polar region, with second-highest air temperatures and second-lowest summer sea ice driving a cascade of impacts, including the loss of snow and extraordinary wildfires in northern Russia. The sustained transformation to a warmer, less frozen and biologically changed Arctic remains clear.
The average annual land-surface air temperature in the Arctic measured between October 2019 and September 2020 was the second-warmest since record-keeping began in 1900, and was responsible for driving a cascade of impacts across Arctic ecosystems during the year. Nine of the past 10 years saw air temperatures at least 1 degree C above (2.2 degrees F) the 1981-2010 mean. Arctic temperatures for the past six years have all exceeded previous records.Record warm temperatures in the Eurasian Arctic were associated with extreme conditions in the ocean and on the land.
Sea ice loss in spring 2020 was particularly early in the East Siberian Sea and Laptev Sea regions, setting new record lows in the Laptev Sea for June. The end of summer sea ice extent in 2020 was the second lowest in the 42-year satellite record, with 2012 being the record minimum year. Overall thickness of the sea ice cover is also decreasing as Arctic ice has transformed from an older, thicker, and stronger ice mass to a younger, thinner more fragile ice mass in the past decade.
PMEL’s Dr. James Overland, Dr. Muyin Wang (UW/CICOES), and Dr. Kevin Wood (UW/CICOES) contributed to sections on surface air temperature and sea ice. Dr. Overland is one of three founding editors of the Arctic Report Card and served as a co-editor from 2006 - 2017. Read the full interview about his work in the Arctic and with the Arctic Report Card.
The Arctic Report Card is an annual compilation of original, peer-reviewed environmental observations and analyses of a region undergoing rapid and dramatic alterations to weather, climate, oceanic, and land conditions. Compiled by 133 scientists from 15 countries, the 2020 report card tracks environmental indicators to inform decisions by local, state and federal leaders confronting a rapidly changing climate and ecosystems.
Read the original NOAA Press Release.
After 8 months of sitting on the seafloor, PMEL’s latest engineering development, the Flotation Controllable Ocean Mooring (FCOM) system successfully resurfaced in July. Over the last two years, PMEL has been developing a profiling mooring for use in Arctic regions that submerges when ice arrives in the fall and refloats in the spring after ice retreat. The FCOM system has a surface float that is anchored to the ocean floor, and includes a Prawler that moves up and down the mooring line collecting profiles of temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen. This innovation will provide real-time information of the full water column during the entire open water (sea ice free) season.
The Chukchi Sea is an ice-driven system. Collecting data during the spring and fall is crucial for monitoring ecosystem production and generating ice forecasts. Data collection during spring and fall is difficult as there are few vessels in the region during those times, and moorings must be placed near the seafloor to avoid ice keels which prevents real time data return on the status of the full water column. Prior to FCOMs, surface floats could only sample for a short period because deployment and recovery were dependent upon the tight scheduling of research vessels. This mooring addresses these long-standing science gaps.
The mooring was originally deployed from the R/V Ocean Starr in spring of 2019 in the Chukchi Sea with pre-programmed dates to sink and resurface. It sank in October 2019, resurfaced in July 2020 and will be recovered in September. The next version of FCOM will be outfitted with a hydrophone and ice-detection algorithms so that it can resurface after ice retreats without having a pre-programmed date. Ultimately, the FCOM with a Prawler is intended to be integrated into NOAA’s Arctic observing system.
Two saildrones in the Pacific Ocean just west of the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of their journey. Photo Credit: Saildrone, Inc.
Three saildrones left Alameda, California in May and have arrived at Unimak Pass in Alaska’s remote Aleutian Islands. The ocean drones have sailed nearly 2,700 miles at a walking pace, about 2.5 miles per hour (2 knots), which is just about the distance from Seattle to Miami. Once they navigate through the pass, the saildrones will enter the Bering Sea. This is where they will conduct a two month-long acoustic survey of walleye pollock to collect some critically needed data to support management of the nation’s largest commercial fishery for Alaska pollock. They are expected to reach their first survey station in about a week and will cover roughly the same area normally covered by standard research vessels.
The data the drones collect will help to fill in the gap for fisheries stock assessment scientists who monitor the changes in pollock populations to advise fisheries management. The sonar measurements made by the ocean drones will provide valuable insights on pollock abundance and distribution in 2020.
The mission is led by NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center with scientists at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory processing the oceanographic and meteorological data in real time. Data will be made available to weather forecasts center worldwide via the World Meteorological Organization's Global Telecommunication System (GTS) so that these observations can be incorporated into weather predictions. PMEL, AFSC and Saildrone have collaborated on several missions in the Arctic since 2015 to develop the vehicle’s capabilities and refine the sensors.
PMEL, AFSC and Saildrone have collaborated on several missions in the Arctic since 2015 to develop the vehicle’s capabilities and refine the sensors.
The US Arctic and Bering Sea are big, remote, and harsh environments. PMEL's Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration program and Engineering Development Division have been developing autonomous technologies and tools to collect critical data to better understand changes in the oceans and its impact on food security, sea ice forecasts, weather and climate.
Drones and gliders are not designed for ice edge and can offer a new perspective on Arctic science, exploring new areas of the Arctic Ocean. One critical area of study is the melting edge of the seasonal ice pack. The timing and speed of annual ice retreat is changing each year, and could have a big impact on ecosystems and global weather patterns. PMEL is pushing the envelope to further develop gliders and drones to advance the science near the ice edge to explore how it moves and changes.
Check out the video on our YouTube Channel to learn more about NOAA PMEL’s autonomous observing technology in the Arctic: https://youtu.be/A_
41 scientists from PMEL, including scientists from NOAA's cooperative institutes at the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere (JISAO) and Oregon State University's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS), the National Research Council, graduate and undergraduate students are heading to the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego to share their current research. Talks and posters cover a range of topics include saildrone research, ocean observing systems, marine heatwaves, Arctic, acoustics, Deep Argo, genetics and genomics, El Nino, hydrothermal vents, methane, nutrients, technologies, ocean carbon and data management.
The 2020 Oceans Science Meeting is the flagship conference for the ocean sciences and the larger ocean-connected community. As we approach the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, beginning in 2021, it is increasingly important to gather as a scientific community to raise awareness of the truly global dimension of the ocean, address environmental challenges, and set forth on a path towards a resilient planet. The meeting is co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS).
PMEL research groups that will be present at the conference are: Acoustics, Arctic including Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration, Climate-Weather Interface, Earth-Ocean Interactions, EcoFOCI, Engineering, Genetics and Genomics, Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array, , Large Scale Ocean Physics, Ocean Carbon, Ocean Climate Stations, Pacific Western Boundary Currents, and Science Data Integration Group.
NOAA recently released the 2019 Arctic Report Card at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting providing updates on the ongoing impact of changing conditions in the Arctic on the environment and communities, especially from continued warming and record sea ice loss. This work brings together 81 scientists from 12 nations to provide the latest in peer-reviewed, actionable environmental information on the current state of the Arctic environmental system relative to historical records.
The average annual land surface air temperature north of 60° N for October 2018-August 2019 was the second warmest since 1900. The warming air temperatures are driving changes in the Arctic environment that affect ecosystems and communities on a regional and global scale.
In the marine environment, August mean sea surface temperatures in 2019 were 1-7°C warmer than the 1982-2010 August mean in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, the Laptev Sea, and Baffin Bay. Arctic sea ice extent at the end of summer 2019 was tied with 2007 and 2016 as the second lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. The thickness of the sea ice has also decreased, resulting in an ice cover that is more vulnerable to warming air and ocean temperatures. The winter sea ice extent in 2019 narrowly missed surpassing the record low set in 2018, leading to record-breaking warm ocean temperatures in 2019 on the southern shelf. Bottom temperatures on the northern Bering shelf exceeded 4°C for the first time in November 2018. Bering and Barents Seas fisheries have experienced a northerly shift in the distribution of subarctic and Arctic fish species, linked to the loss of sea ice and changes in bottom water temperature.
Less than 1 percent of Arctic ice has survived four or more summers In March 1985, sea ice at least four years old made up 33 percent of the ice pack in the Arctic Ocean; in March 2019, ice that old made up 1.2 percent of the pack. Instead, more than three-quarters of the winter ice pack today consists of thin ice that is just a few months old, whereas in the past it was just over half.
Read more highlights and the full Arctic Report card here.
The NOAA Press Release can be found here.
International team assesses widespread effects of polar warming
With 2019 on pace as one of the warmest years on record, a new study published today in the journal Science Advances, reveals how rapidly the Arctic is warming and examines global consequences of continued polar warming. The study reports that the Arctic has warmed by 0.75oC in the last decade alone. By comparison, the Earth as a whole has warmed by nearly the same amount, 0.8oC, over the past 137 years.
“Many of the changes over the past decade are so dramatic they make you wonder what the next decade of warming will bring,” said lead author Eric Post, a UC Davis professor of climate change ecology. “If we haven't already entered a new Arctic, we are certainly on the threshold.”
What 2 degrees global warming means for the poles
The comprehensive report represents the efforts of an international team of 15 authors specializing in an array of disciplines, including the life, Earth, social, and political sciences. They documented widespread effects of warming in the Arctic and Antarctic on wildlife, traditional human livelihoods, tundra vegetation, methane release, and loss of sea- and land ice. They also examined consequences for the polar regions as the Earth inches toward 2oC warming, a commonly discussed milestone.
“Under a business-as-usual scenario, the Earth as a whole may reach that milestone in about 40 years,” said Post. “But the Arctic is already there during some months of the year, and it could reach 2oC warming on an annual mean basis as soon as 25 years before the rest of the planet.”
The study illustrates what 2oC of global warming could mean for the high latitudes: up to 7oC warming for the Arctic and 3oC warming for the Antarctic during some months of the year.
The authors say that active, near-term measures to reduce carbon emissions are crucial to slowing high latitude warming, especially in the Arctic.
Beyond the polar regions
Major consequences of projected warming in the absence of carbon mitigation are expected to reach beyond the polar regions. Among these are sea level rise resulting from rapid melting of land ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as increased risk of extreme weather, deadly heat waves, and wildfire in parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” said co-author Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences at Penn State. “The dramatic warming and melting of Arctic ice is impacting the jet stream in a way that gives us more persistent and damaging weather extremes.”
Muyin Wang, research meteorologist with the University of Washington Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere and NOAA PMEL is a co-author of the research. Other institutions include Pennsylvania State University; Aarhus University; University of Oxford; University of Lapland; University of Colorado, Boulder; Chicago Botanic Garden; Dartmouth College; Umea University; University College London; U.S. Arctic Research Commission; and Harvard University.
Funding for the study was provided by grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Academy of Finland and JPI Climate, National Geographic Society, Natural Environment Research Council, the Swedish Research Council, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and NOAA.
Originally posted on UC Davis on December 4, 2019.
A mosaic of young sea ice captured during a flight campaign over the Chukchi Sea launching various atmospheric and oceanographic probes and floats.
The black dots show the observed day of year that sea-ice concentration in the reference area northwest of Icy Cape first reaches 30%, as determined from passive microwave data. The blue markers show the range (14 days) of the projected onset of freeze in 2019. The dashed line shows the long-term mean (1981-2016).
PMEL has released an experimental annual freeze-up projection for the Chukchi Sea continental shelf northwest of Icy Cape. The freeze onset is projected to begin between 23 November and 6 December 2019. This is 28-41 days later than the long-term average (1981-2016). At freeze-up in 2019, sea-ice in the northwest of Icy Cape will consist entirely of thin, newly formed types (e.g. sheets and thin pancake), especially near the coast. For this projection, the onset metric is defined by sea-ice concentration reaching 30% as determined by passive microwave observations collected in the area around Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea.
The data considered in this projection includes observations collected from autonomous ocean profiling floats, aircraft and satellite-derived visible imagery, and SST radiometry in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Persistence of sea ice was evaluated using historical ice concentration data from passive microwave satellites, provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).
The purpose of this experiment is to develop an informed basis for advising a hypothetical maritime interest operating in the region and to identify conditions that cause sudden large departures (increase in risk). It also provides a result that can be evaluated against other methodologies. Data from various technologies deployed during the Arctic Heat flight campaigns help to fill in data gaps in the Arctic and determine limiting factors in projecting sea ice freeze up in hopes of improving seasonal model forecasts.
Read the full projection and rationale here: https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/arctic-heat/projected-onset-freeze-chukchi-sea-continental-shelf-2019
Learn more about the work being done on the Arctic Heat page: https://www.pmel.noaa.