Monday, October 3, 2016

The Arctic is being utterly transformed

    A collage of melting sea ice in the Kane Basin between Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere
Island in August of 2016. (Chris Mooney for the Washington Post.
It’s the fastest-warming part of the planet — and the impacts will be felt far, far afield. Among many other assorted impacts, the rapidly melting Arctic is expected to flood shorelines as Greenland loses ice more and more rapidly (it contains some 20 feet of potential sea level rise), further pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as permafrost thaws, and become a global heat sink as a once ice-covered ocean exposes more and more dark water.

Chris Mooney reports for The Washington Post:

No wonder, perhaps, that on Wednesday, the outgoing Obama administration convened top science policymakers from 25 other Arctic and non-Arctic nations, as well as representatives of Arctic indigenous peoples, in a first-ever Arctic Science Ministerial to coordinate study of what the consequences will be as the Arctic heats up much more rapidly than the more temperate latitudes or the equator.
“The temperature is increasing between 2 and 5 times as fast, depending on where in the Arctic you are,” said physicist John Holdren, who heads the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and is Obama’s science adviser, and is chairing the meeting.
We know this in broad outline, Holdren said, but our knowledge comes up short in many areas when it comes to more precisely observing what is happening in the remote and at times dangerous Arctic region, and being able to run simulations, or computer models, to chart the consequences.
“Basically, the whole Arctic is under-instrumented,” said Holdren. “The observation networks are too sparse in geographic extent, they’re too discontinuous in time, they’re not measuring everywhere all the things they should be measuring. We can’t say, for example, how much CO2 and methane emissions from the Arctic are actually going up. We know they are going up but we don’t really have a good handle on how fast and from precisely where.”
In conjunction with the ministerial, the White House announced the release of a new satellite-based dataset that maps elevations across the Arctic at a resolution of 8 meters, with an expected further improvement to 2 meters next year. This is highly scientifically valuable because it will mean that researchers will be able to remotely detect the slumping of glaciers and permafrost and the vulnerability of different locations to rising seas.
Also on Wednesday, global ministers announced a number of science projects including a new Integrated Arctic Observing System to be put in place by the European Union and a U.S. National Science Foundation project, called “Eyes North,” to record and evaluate the large volume of environmental changes being observed by the Arctic’s indigenous peoples in and around their communities.
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