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Climate Change Driving 'Profound' Shift in Arctic Ecosystem

NOAA warns Arctic is warming 'twice as fast as other parts of the planet'

Sunset over the Arctic Ocean, north of western Russia. (Photo: Mike Dunn, NC State Museum of Natural Sciences/NOAA Climate Program Office)

Sunset over the Arctic Ocean, north of western Russia. (Photo: Mike Dunn, NC State Museum of Natural Sciences/NOAA Climate Program Office)

The 2015 report card compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and released Tuesday comes to a disturbing conclusion: record highs in air temperatures, and lows in peak ice, reveal that—for the marine ecosystem—climate change is already "profound."

"Changes in sea ice alone are having profound effects on the marine ecosystem (fishes, walruses, primary production) and sea surface temperatures," reads a statement from the federal agency, whose findings were produced by 72 scientists from 11 countries.

The findings were grim. Measurements of sea ice—and the end and beginning of the winter period—found a shorter window of freezing, and a dramatic shift in the ecosystem overall.

Maximum sea ice extent in February was "15 days earlier than average and the lowest value on record" since 1979, NOAA warns. "Minimum ice extent in September was the 4th lowest on record. Sea ice continues to be younger and thinner: in February and March 2015 there was twice as much first-year ice as there was 30 years ago."

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Loss of sea ice, and climbing temperatures in the Barents Sea, off the coast of Norway and Russia, are causing "a poleward shift in fish communities," according to the agency. These changes are impacting wildlife, as well as Indigenous communities that rely on them for their survival.

"The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet, which has ramifications for global security, climate, commerce, and trade," said NOAA Chief Scientist Dr. Rick Spinrad at a press conference on Tuesday in San Francisco.

NOAA summarized its findings in the following video:

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