Polar Bears International

Sea ice age coverage maps for a) March 1985 (Tschudi et al., 2015), b) March 2016 (personal communication, J. S. Stewart).

© NOAA - Arctic Report Card 2016 Update

2/2/2017 1:10:29 AM

2016 Third Hottest Year in a Row, Sea Ice at Historic Low

Two climate change indicators—global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent—broke records, again, in 2016. 

2016 goes down in the history books as the hottest year on record—going back to 1880. NOAA and NASA, who held a joint press conference to discuss the news, said this is the third year in a row to break that dubious record.

Not only was this the third consecutive year to rank hotter than all previous years, it also means 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to NOAA.

2016 is a “data point at the end of many data points that indicates” long-term warming, Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of the National Centers for Environmental Information, said.

Climate scientists say greenhouse gas pollution, which humans are creating through the burning of fossil fuels and large-scale conversion of forested lands for agriculture, likely contributed to the 2016 record.

“These record years of warming can clearly be attributed to human-caused climate change,” said Geoff York, Polar Bears International’s senior director of conservation.

As a result of regional warming in the Arctic, another record was recently smashed. Sea ice extent is at an historic low. Three incursions—surges of warm air and stormy conditions—have hit the Arctic this season. When temperatures rise, sea ice stops forming and starts melting.

Polar bears depend on sea ice both as a platform from which to hunt and as the basis of their food chain, which starts with algae that grows on the underside of sea ice.

NOAA’s annual Arctic Report Card stated that 2016 set record lows for both the sea ice winter peak and summer minimum, and sea ice made a virtually unprecedented cold season retreat in mid-November.

“We are seeing unprecedented losses in sea ice extent and volume across seasons. This is leading to population declines in some regions and dramatic shifts in movements for others, including more bears spending longer times on shore.”

Polar bears are not the only ones affect by record temperatures and reduced sea ice extent.

“This decades-long decline in sea ice has repercussions for native communities and for the Arctic ecosystem, of which the sea ice is a vital component. It is also exposing the fragile region to more shipping and other commercial activity and could be altering weather patterns over parts of the Northern Hemisphere.” 

“In all my years studying polar bears and the Arctic, I’ve never seen such dramatic sea ice decline and warm temperatures, even in the winter. Unlike some species, polar bears and other ice-dependent life have nowhere to go as their icy world warms,” York said.

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