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Arctic Report Card 2018 released – This is a test, and we’re failing

The Arctic Report Card has been unveiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this week, and it shows the most drastic change in the area since records began. 

This is the 13th Arctic Report Card to be carried out in conjunction with an international team of scientists, and this report remains deeply concerning.

Sea ice is said to be ‘younger, thinner and covering less areas than in the past’, with near-record sea ice minimums occurring year upon year for over a decade.

Arctic Report Card My Good Planet 1
Declining Arctic sea ice: The 2018 Arctic Report Card found the Arctic region had the second-lowest overall sea-ice coverage on record. The map shows the age of sea ice in the Arctic ice pack in March 1985 (left) and March 2018 (right). Ice that is less than a year old is darkest blue. Ice that has survived at least 4 full years is white. Maps were provided by NOAA Climate.gov and based on data provided by Mark Tschudi./University of Colorado/CCAR. (NOAA Climate.gov)

Ice which is older than four years now makes up less than 1% of the Arctic ice pack. This means that the younger ice is less likely to survive the warmer summer months. ‘Warmer air and ocean temperatures’ have been having a direct effect on Arctic ice, the deterioration of which could lead to rising sea levels and a breakdown of the marine ecosystem.

The effect on wildlife has been noticeable. Last month we reported on the erratic migratory habits of bears in the Wapusk National Park, Canada, charting activity which could be directly attributed to climate change in the Arctic region and neighbouring areas. Migratory herds of caribou and reindeer are falling, despite an increase in green areas, with numbers down almost 50% in the past few decades.

Caribou My Good Planet
Caribou and wild reindeer numbers drop 56 percent in 20 years: Arctic caribou and wild reindeer populations dropped sharply from 4.7 million to 2.1 million grazing animals in two decades, with the largest declines in Alaska and Canada. Scientists attribute the declines to Arctic warming, which is increasing the frequency of drought, affecting the quality of forage. Longer, warmer summers also increase flies, parasites and disease outbreaks in the herds. These caribou were spotted in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve. (Courtesy of Rick Thoman/Univ. of Alaska-Fairbanks)

Microplastics are an ongoing problem in the Arctic as well, with the sea basin containing more traces of plastic than all of the other ocean basins in the world, according to a recent, cited study. Arctic sea traffic is listed as being a primary factor in this issue.

It makes for sobering reading, but essential nonetheless, if collective efforts are to be made to reverse the destructive natural trend which over industrialisation and fossil fuel dependence are creating.

Arctic Report Card My Good Planet

Highlights of the report include:

In the Bering Sea region, ocean primary productivity levels in 2018 were sometimes 500% higher than normal levels and linked to a record low sea ice extent in the region for virtually the entire 2017/18 ice season.

Warming Arctic Ocean conditions are also coinciding with an expansion of harmful toxic algal blooms in the Arctic Ocean and threatening food sources.

Microplastic contamination is on the rise in the Arctic, posing a threat to seabirds and marine life that can ingest debris.

Pan-Arctic observations suggest a long-term decline in coastal landfast sea ice since measurements began in the 1970s, affecting this important platform for hunting, traveling, and coastal protection for local communities.

Colin J McCracken
Colin J McCracken

Director and Executive Editor

Colin J McCracken is an Irish editor and writer of both fiction and journalism. Coming from a background in education and film, his passions are split between the environmental and the entertaining. Constantly striving for a more sustainable existence and trying to balance it while simultaneously buying too many books.