[Marxism] Warming in Arctic Raises Fears of a ‘Rapid Unraveling’ of the Region

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 11 12:41:14 MST 2018

NY Times, Dec. 11, 2018
Warming in Arctic Raises Fears of a ‘Rapid Unraveling’ of the Region
By John Schwartz and Henry Fountain

Persistent warming in the Arctic is pushing the region into “uncharted 
territory” and increasingly affecting the continental United States, 
scientists said Tuesday.

“We’re seeing this continued increase of warmth pervading across the 
entire Arctic system,” said Emily Osborne, an official with the National 
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who presented the agency’s 
annual assessment of the state of the region, the “Arctic Report Card.”

The Arctic has been warmer over the last five years than at any time 
since records began in 1900, the report found, and the region is warming 
at twice the rate as the rest of the planet.

Dr. Osborne, the lead editor of the report and manager of NOAA’s Arctic 
Research Program, said the Arctic was undergoing its “most unprecedented 
transition in human history.”

In 2018, “warming air and ocean temperatures continued to drive broad 
long-term change across the polar region, pushing the Arctic into 
uncharted territory,” she said at a meeting of the American Geophysical 
Union in Washington.

The rising air temperatures are having profound effects on sea ice, and 
on life on land and in the ocean, scientists said. The impacts can be 
felt far beyond the region, especially since the changing Arctic climate 
may be influencing extreme weather events around the world.

The new edition of the report does not present a radical break with past 
installments, but it shows that troublesome trends wrought by climate 
change are intensifying. Air temperatures in the Arctic in 2018 will be 
the second-warmest ever recorded, the report said, behind only 2016.

Susan M. Natali, an Arctic scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in 
Massachusetts who was not involved in the research, said the report was 
another warning going unheeded. “Every time you see a report, things get 
worse, and we’re still not taking any action,” she said. “It adds 
support that these changes are happening, that they are observable.”

The warmer Arctic air causes the jet stream to become “sluggish and 
unusually wavy,” the researchers said. That has possible connections to 
extreme weather events elsewhere on the globe, including last winter’s 
severe storms in the United States and a bitter cold spell in Europe 
known as the “Beast From the East.”

The jet stream normally acts as a kind of atmospheric spinning lasso 
that encircles and contains the cold air near the pole; a weaker, 
wavering jet stream can allow Arctic blasts to travel south in winter 
and can stall weather systems in the summer, among other effects.

“On the East Coast of the United States where the other part of the wave 
comes down,” Dr. Osborne said, “you have these Arctic air temperatures 
that are surging over into the lower latitudes and causing these crazy 
winter storms.”

The rapid warming in the upper north, known as Arctic amplification, is 
tied to many factors, including the simple fact that snow and ice 
reflect a lot of sunlight, while open water, which is darker, absorbs 
more heat. As sea ice melts, less ice and more open water create a 
“feedback loop” of more melting that leads to progressively less ice and 
more open water.

And as Arctic waters become increasingly ice-free, there are commercial 
and geopolitical implications: New shipping routes may open, and 
rivalries with other countries, including Russia, are intensifying.

The federal government has issued the report card since 2006. It has 
continued to do so under the Trump administration, which has approved 
other scientific reports about global warming and the human greenhouse 
gas emissions that cause it, despite President Trump’s rejection of 
climate science.

Over all, “the effects of persistent Arctic warming continue to mount,” 
the new report said. “Continued warming of the Arctic atmosphere and 
ocean are driving broad change in the environmental system in predicted 
and, also, unexpected ways.”

Some of the findings in the research, provided by 81 scientists in 12 
countries, included:

The wintertime maximum extent of sea ice in the region, in March of this 
year, was the second lowest in 39 years of record keeping.

Ice that persists year after year, forming thick layers, is disappearing 
from the Arctic. This is important because the very old ice tends to 
resist melting; without it, melting accelerates. Old ice made up less 
than 1 percent of the Arctic ice pack this year, a decline of 95 percent 
over the last 33 years.

Donald K. Perovich, a sea-ice expert at Dartmouth College who 
contributed to the report, said the “big story” for ice this year was in 
the Bering Sea, off western Alaska, where the extent of sea ice reached 
a record low for virtually the entire winter. During two weeks in 
February, normally a time when sea ice grows, the Bering Sea lost an 
area of ice the size of Idaho, Dr. Perovich said.

The lack of ice and surge of warmth coincides with rapid expansion of 
algae species in the Arctic Ocean, associated with harmful blooms that 
can poison marine life and people who eat the contaminated seafood. The 
northward shift of the algae “means that the Arctic is now vulnerable to 
species introductions into local communities and ecosystems that have 
little to no prior exposure to this phenomenon,” the report said.

Reindeer and caribou populations have declined 56 percent in the past 
two decades, dropping to 2.1 million from 4.7 million. Scientists 
monitoring 22 herds found that two of them were at peak numbers without 
declines, but five populations had declined more than 90 percent “and 
show no sign of recovery.”

Tiny bits of ocean plastic, which can be ingested by marine life, are 
proliferating at the top of the planet. “Concentrations in the remote 
Arctic Ocean are higher than all other ocean basins in the world,” the 
report said. The microplastics are also showing up in Arctic sea ice. 
Scientists have found samples of cellulose acetate, used in making 
cigarette filters, and particles of plastics used in bottle caps and 
packaging material.

“The report card continues to document a rapid unraveling of the 
Arctic,” said Rafe Pomerance, chairman of Arctic 21, a network of 
organizations focused on educating policymakers and others on Arctic 
climate change. “The signals of decline are so powerful and the 
consequences so great that they demand far more urgency from all 
governments to reduce emissions.”

The report was issued as delegates from nearly 200 countries were 
meeting in Poland for the latest round of climate talks stemming from 
the Paris Agreement, the landmark climate accord that was designed to 
reduce planet-warming emissions.

Mr. Trump has vowed to withdraw from the agreement. At the talks, the 
United States joined with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia in refusing to 
endorse a major report to the conference on the effects of climate 
change around the world.

At a news conference Tuesday announcing the findings of the Arctic 
report, Tim Gallaudet, a retired Navy admiral who is the acting NOAA 
administrator, was asked if he or any other senior NOAA officials had 
ever briefed Mr. Trump on climate change or the changes in the Arctic.

“The simple answer is no,” he said.


John Schwartz is part of the climate team. Since joining The Times in 
2000, he has covered science, law, technology, the space program and 
more, and has written for almost every section. @jswatz • Facebook

Henry Fountain covers climate change, with a focus on the innovations 
that will be needed to overcome it. He is the author of “The Great 
Quake,” a book about the 1964 Alaskan earthquake. @henryfountain • Facebook

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