Polar Bears International

How healthy is the Arctic? NOAA's annual Arctic Report Card, released today, shows troubling signs from land to sea.

© Dick and Val Beck

12/17/2014 6:30:00 PM

Arctic Report Card Released Today

How did the Arctic do this year? A new report takes us through the marks. 

Every December since 2006, NOAA has published the annual Arctic Report Card, a peer-reviewed summary of reliable information on the current status and historical trend of key arctic ecosystem components-from the physical to the biological, from the atmosphere to plankton. 

This year, PBI scientists were honored to be included as co-authors of the section on our favorite topic-polar bears. In this section, we summarize the key research published over the last few years on topics ranging from population status to genetics and evolution.

Other topics of interest include the latest research findings and trends for the atmosphere, sea ice, physical and biological oceanography, ice sheets, and terrestrial changes in vegetation.

Together, the Report Card paints an impressive record of research efforts and careful analysis by thousands of scientists. It also captures a compelling story of continued warming and change in the Arctic.

So, what was the overall grade for the arctic ecosystem? Scientists report that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet, with troubling signs this year from land to sea:

  • Spring snow cover fell below the long-term mean from 1981-2010, reaching its lowest levels ever in Eurasia
  • The sea ice extent was the sixth lowest on record
  • Surface temperatures on the Arctic Ocean continued to increase
  • Almost 40 percent of the surface of the Greenland ice sheet melted last summer
  • Tundra greening continued, with vegetation expanding its borders

As for polar bears, the report focuses on those populations with good data. These include the polar bears of western Hudson Bay, Canada, which have experienced declines due to shorter sea ice seasons. Another population showing signs of stress is the southern Beaufort Sea, which dropped by about 40 percent from 2001-2010 and then stabilized. In contrast, polar bear condition and reproductive rates have held steady for 20 years in the Chukchi Sea, where there are differences in productivity, ice free days, and harvest history.

The  Report Card is intended to inform a broad audience, from scientists, students, teachers, and decision makers to the general public. Its annual release has also become one of the anticipated events at the December meeting of the American Geophysical Union or AGU. The AGU, a nonprofit science organization, was founded in 1919 and has over 60,000 members. Their annual meetings typically attract over 24,000 scientists- one of the largest scientific meetings in the world! 

You can read the entire report here

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