Arctic breaking record and going green – not in good way

The Arctic is becoming a greener and warmer place, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study, NOAA’s 2012 “State of the Arctic” report card, said that the cold region at the top of the world continued to break records, including loss of summer sea ice, lack of spring snow cover, and melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

“The Arctic is changing in both predictable and unpredictable ways, so we must expect surprises,” said NOAA head Jane Lubchenco during a media briefing at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco.

What was unusual about the Arctic this year was that, with few exceptions, air temperatures weren’t all that high, yet there were continuing changes to the ice and snow across the region, said Martin Jeffries, co-editor of the report and science adviser at the Office of Naval Research.

Some of the highlights of the report included:

Snow cover: A new record low snow extent for the Northern Hemisphere was set in June 2012, and a new record low was reached in May over Eurasia.

Sea ice: Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September 2012 set a new all-time record low, as measured by satellite since 1979.

Greenland ice sheet: There was a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event on the Greenland ice sheet in July, covering about 97 percent of the ice sheet on a single day.

Vegetation: The tundra is getting greener and there’s more above-ground growth. During the period of 2003-10, the length of the growing season increased through much of the Arctic.

Wildlife and food chain: In northernmost Europe, the Arctic fox is close to extinction. Also, measurements of phytoplankton blooms below the summer sea ice suggest earlier estimates of biological production at the bottom of the marine food chain may have been 10 times lower than was occurring.

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