‘The time for action is now’: NOAA’s Arctic Report Card paints a dire picture of climate change

A man in a parka stands on an ice field looking toward the sun low in the sky.
Guy Omnik observing the sea ice near Point Hope, Alaska, in January 2020 as part of the Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub. (Photo by Caroline Nashookpuk)

The Arctic experienced its warmest summer on record this year due to human-caused climate change, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest Arctic Report Card.

“Its message is more urgent than ever,” said Rick Spinrad, NOAA administrator. “The time for action is now.”

The 18th annual Arctic Report Card detailed dramatic shifts in Arctic lands, weather and climate as a result of warming. Arctic sea ice extent was the sixth lowest on record. Nearly a million acres of undersea permafrost is at risk of thawing and releasing more greenhouse gasses and heavy precipitation broke records across the Arctic, contributing to natural disasters. 

“Climate change is not something that’s coming down the pipe somewhere in the future. It is happening now,” said Daniel Schindler, an ecologist at the University of Washington. “Whether you’re talking about fish, or people or birds, there are real impacts that we need to deal with right now.”

The administration and its partners held a press conference on the new report at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday.

This year’s report centered Indigenous perspectives, including contributions by a network of coastal Alaska observers from Kotzebue to Kaktovik. The observers reported sea ice loss, warmer oceans and increasingly intense storms that contribute to flooding and erosion.

On a sunny day, homes stand in a few feet of flooded, still water.
Flooding in the low-lying areas of Kotzebue in Oct. 2022, as described by Bobby Schaeffer, observer for the Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub. (Photo by Isabelle Mendenhall)
Three residential buildings, including one entirely destroyed home, perch over an eroded riverbank.
Homes along the Mendenhall River near Juneau, Alaska, were damaged and the river bank eroded during unprecedented flooding in August 2023, caused when a glacial lake on a tributary burst through an ice dam. Climate warming has led to increasing extreme weather events in Alaska and the Arctic. (Photo by Aaron Jacobs/ NOAA National Weather Service)

“These environmental changes have real impacts on community infrastructure, traditional activities and access and availability of subsistence resources,” said Roberta Glenn-Borade, who helps coordinate the network, known as the Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub.

Glenn-Borade, from Utqiagvik, said despite the challenges, she sees resilience in her region. 

“There’s strength in being proud that we have survived as a people to make it this far, to be able to continually thrive in our region, living off the land and sea. And we don’t plan on stopping soon,” she said.

The annual report card examines physical and biological changes in the Arctic. Scientists from around the circumpolar north described a warmer, wetter, less frozen Arctic that is more prone to extreme climate events like this summer’s wildfires in Canada and flooding in Juneau. 

A section on Alaska salmon also illustrated how climate change is impacting species differently. Western Alaska chum and chinook salmon have been on a long decline, dropping to record low returns, likely a result of warming oceans and rivers. Meanwhile, sockeye salmon have reached record highs in recent years. 

“These numbers were neither predictable, nor would they have been believable a decade ago,” said Schindler, the ecologist.

Schindler said sockeye’s success could actually be caused by warming waters, which are helping to grow the populations of plankton that sockeye eat.

Researchers say tracking these changes in the Arctic is important because they serve as an early indicator of how climate change will affect the rest of the planet as it warms. 

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Kavitha here.

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