How the hottest summer ever affected the Arctic

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in news?
  • What is the Arctic?
  • What is National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)?
  • News Summary: How the hottest summer ever affected the Arctic
  • Key highlights of the Arctic Report Card: Update for 2023
  • Most severe consequences of the soaring temperatures in the Arctic

Why in news?

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual Arctic Report Card has been released.
    • The peer-reviewed analysis was done by 82 scientists from 13 countries.
  • As per this report, the 2023 summer was the warmest on record in the Arctic, which, due to climate change, has warmed nearly four times faster than the globe since 1979.
  • The study indicates Arctic amplification is taking place at a very fast rate.
    • Arctic amplification is the increasingly ramped-up warming that is taking place in the area of the world north of 67 degrees N latitude.

The Arctic

  • The Arctic is a polar region at the top of the world, centred on the North Pole.
  • It is made up of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
  • The Arctic is defined by scientists as the area within the Arctic Circle, a line of latitude about 66.5° north of the equator.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • NOAA is a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce.
  • NOAA's mission is to study & report on the ocean, atmosphere, & coastal regions of Earth.
  • NOAA's mission also includes:
    • Understanding and predicting changes in the climate, weather, ocean, and coasts
    • Sharing that knowledge with others
    • Conserving and managing coastal and marine ecosystems and resources
    • Supporting public safety
    • Enabling sustainable commerce
    • Exploring the unknown
  • The National Headquarters is located in Silver Spring, Maryland.

News Summary: Key highlights of the Arctic Report Card: Update for 2023

  • The past year, October 2022–September 2023, was the sixth-warmest year in the Arctic since records began in 1900.
    • The Arctic monitoring year runs from October of one year to September of the next to span the region’s cold season.
  • It was the 14th consecutive year in which Arctic temperatures exceeded the 1991–2020 average.
  • The rising temperatures in the northern polar region contributed to unprecedented wildfires that forced communities to evacuate, a decline in sea ice extent, devastating floods, food insecurity, and a rise in sea level.

Most severe consequences of the soaring temperatures in the Arctic

  • Thawing of Subsea permafrost
    • Subsea permafrost is essentially frozen soil beneath the seabed that contains organic matter.
    • While it has been gradually thawing for thousands of years, warmer ocean temperatures are accelerating this process.
    • When subsea permafrost thaws, the organic matter it contains decays and releases methane and carbon dioxide – greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and worsen ocean acidification.
  • Food insecurity
    • Due to the impact of climate change on freshwater bodies and marine ecosystems, Western Alaska recorded another year of extremely low numbers of Chinook and chum salmon. The size of adult salmon has also decreased.
    • It led to fishery closures, worsened user conflicts, and had profound cultural and food security impacts in Indigenous communities that have been tied to salmon for millennia.
  • Raging wildfires
    • Canada — 40% of its land mass is considered Arctic and Northern — was among the worst affected regions when it comes to wildfires.
    • This happened as high temperatures dried up vegetation and soil, coupled with below-average rainfall, creating perfect conditions for wildfires.
  • Severe flooding
    • Rising temperatures have led to dramatic thinning of the Mendenhall Glacier, located in Alaska, over the past 20 years.
    • As a result, over the years, the meltaway water has annually caused floods in the region.
    • One such disaster took place in August 2023, when a glacial lake on a tributary of the Mendenhall Glacier burst through its ice dam.
      • It caused unprecedented flooding and severe property damage” in Alaska’s Juneau.
  • Greenland ice sheet melting
    • The highest point on Greenland’s ice sheet experienced melting for only the fifth time in the 34-year record.
    • Not only this, the ice sheet continued to lose mass despite above-average winter snow accumulation.
      • Between August 2022 and September 2023, it lost roughly 350 trillion pounds of mass.
    • Notably, Greenland’s ice sheet melting is the second-largest contributor to sea-level rise.

Q1) What is permafrost?

Permafrost is a permanently frozen layer of soil, gravel, and sand that is usually bound together by ice. It's also known as perennially frozen ground.

Q2) What is north pole?

The North Pole is the northernmost point on Earth, where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface. It is also known as the Geographic North Pole, Terrestrial North Pole, or 90th Parallel North.

Source: How the hottest summer ever affected the Arctic: 5 things you need to know | NOAA