2022 Arctic Report Card
Indigenous observations and knowledge in a report that merits our attention
While eyes have been turned towards the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Montreal, the 2022 Arctic Report Card from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ) seems to have slipped by largely unnoticed by the media.
Yet it is a major milestone in assessing what is happening in the Arctic, crucial to understanding what is under way overall. As the climatologists never cease reminding us: what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.
A typhoon, smoke from wildfires and increasing rain are not what most imagine when thinking of the Arctic. Yet these are some of the climate-change-driven events included in a detailed annual update on the transformation of the once reliably frozen, snow-covered region, which is heating up faster than any other part of the world.
The 2022 Arctic Report Card from the NOAA was compiled by 147 experts from 11 nations, and it provides major insight into the rapid change in the Arctic and its impact on the environment, ecosystems, economies and local communities.
It is yet another piece of evidence of the many changes in the Earth’s ecosystem being monitored by the World Meteorology Organization (WMO) community.
“The 2022 Arctic Report Card underscores the urgency to confront the climate crisis by reducing greenhouse gases and taking steps to be more resilient,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D.
This year’s report gives a grim picture of the current situation, to say the least. Let us briefly mention that Arctic annual air temperatures from October 2021 to September 2022 were the sixth highest dating back to 1900, continuing a decades-long trend during which Arctic air temperatures have risen faster than the global average.
While Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) was higher than in many recent years, it was nonetheless much lower than the long-term average, thus consistent with long-term deterioration.
Open water developed near the North Pole for much of the summer, allowing polar-class tourist and research vessels easy access. The Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage were also largely open. Forty years ago, when detailed observations began in earnest, this was generally considered a scenario for the far-off future, perhaps the end of the twenty-first century.
Satellite records from 2009 to 2018 show increasing maritime ship traffic in the Arctic as sea ice declines. The most significant increases in traffic are occurring among ships traveling from the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait and Beaufort Sea. This opens economic opportunities for new trade routes but also poses the serious problem of steadily increasing human-caused stresses on Arctic people and ecosystems.
The 2021-2022 Arctic snow season saw above-average snow accumulation, but this was offset by early snow melt, again, consistent with long-term trends of shortening snow seasons in several areas.
Wetter-than-normal conditions dominated over much of the Arctic from October 2021 to September 2022. This wetness translates into less snow.
Typhoon Merbok, which was fueled by unusually warm water in the north Pacific, dramatically shaped 2022 in the Bering Sea region. Merbok struck the west coast of Alaska in mid-September, bringing a destructive storm surge that caused homes to break loose from foundations and damaged infrastructure in several coastal and river communities.
The Greenland ice sheet, one of the earth’s greatest concentrations of ice, shrank further in 2022, marking its 25th consecutive year of ice loss. In September 2022, the ice sheet had unprecedented late-season warming, creating surface melt conditions over 36% of the ice sheet on September 3, including at the ice sheet’s summit at 10,500 feet, thought to be safe from ice melt for years to come owing to its elevation. This followed a July 18 large surface melt event observed across 42% of the Greenland ice sheet surface.
The August 2022 sea surface temperatures continued to show a warming trend that has been observed since 1982 for much of the ice-free Arctic Ocean. In the Barents and Laptev seas, the August 2022 mean sea surface temperatures were 3.5° to 5.5° Fahrenheit (2° to 3° Celsius) higher than 1991–2020 August mean values, while unusually cool August sea surface temperatures of 5.4° Fahrenheit (3° Celsius) below the trend occurred in the Chukchi Sea, likely driven by late-summer sea ice in the region that was kept in place by the winds.
This year’s Arctic Report Card also features the most comprehensive chapter yet in the annual report’s 17-year history about how these dramatic environmental changes are felt by Arctic Indigenous people, and how their communities are striving to address the changes. However, their efforts in many areas are being offset by the continuing thaw of the permafrost, which is steadily turning once solid (frozen) land into spongy wet surfaces unable to support buildings and roads.