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NOAA: Warming Arctic Unlikely to Return to How it Was

Renee Schoof

A small fishing boat heads out into the sea ice near the town of Uummannaq in western Greenland March 18, 2010. (Credit: Reuters/Svebor Kranjc)

— New observations this year about snow, ice and temperatures support
the conclusion that the Arctic is unlikely to return to the conditions
known in the 20th century — and that's likely to affect the weather in
the lower 48 United States.

That was this year's key message in the annual
update of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Arctic
report card, released Thursday. The key points, a video and links to
scientific reports by 69 scientists from eight countries are available
from NOAA online.

The report card is one way that scientists share
information about trends they're seeing in the Arctic as a result of
the region's warming cycle: Higher air temperatures melt snow and ice,
leaving the ocean and land darker, and they then absorb more solar
energy, causing more heating and melting.

In the past year:

— There was a link between changes in the
Arctic and the severe cold weather last winter in eastern North America,
northern Europe and eastern Asia. Usually, cold air is bottled up in
the Arctic, but this year the cold was blown south.

"As we lose
more sea ice, we'll probably see more of that," said Jim Overland, an
oceanographer with NOAA in Seattle. Many scientists are studying the
link, but they don't fully understand it yet, he said.

The unusual
shift in weather patterns that brought cold air down from the Arctic
has happened only twice before in the last 160 years. Overland said it
was "a major surprise. I'd put it right up there with the (record) ice
loss in 2007."


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— Greenland had its warmest year on record. The
largest glacier loss ever observed in Greenland occurred during the
summer, when a 110-square-mile chunk of the Petermann Glacier broke
away. Other glaciers also shrank, and this ice loss is accelerating.

about sea level rise will have to be revised upward, said Jason Box, a
glaciologist at the Byrd Polar Research Center of the Ohio State
University, one of a group of scientists who briefed reporters Thursday.

It was another low year for sea ice cover. When the ice reached its
minimum for the year in September, it was the third lowest year of the
past 30 years, the period of satellite records. The three lowest years
have been over the last four years.

Jackie Richter-Menge, the
chief editor of the report and a research civil engineer at the Cold
Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said the
warming trend made any return to previous Arctic conditions increasingly
unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future.

"It's very likely Arctic climate warming will continue and that we'll continue to set records in the years to come," she said.


NOAA's Arctic report card

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