Arctic permafrost thawing faster than ever, US climate study finds

Arctic permafrost thawing faster than ever, US climate study finds.

  • Sea ice also melting at fastest pace in 1,500 years.
  • ‘The Arctic is a very different place than it was 10 years ago’.

Permafrost in the Arctic is thawing faster than ever, according to a new US government report. The report also found Arctic seawater is warming and sea ice is melting at the fastest pace in 1,500 years.

The annual report released on Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed slightly less warming in many measurements than a record hot 2016. But scientists remain concerned because the far northern part is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. It has reached a level of warming not seen in recent times.

“2017 continued to show us that the Arctic is a very different place than it was a 10 years ago,” said Jeremy Mathis, head of NOAA’s Arctic research program.

“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic; it affects the rest of the planet,” said acting NOAA chief Timothy Gallaudet. “

Many buildings, roads and pipelines are built on permafrost. Permafrost reached record warm temperatures last year.  The temperature was near and sometimes warmer than the thawing point. That could be dangerous when the ground melts and shifts, the report said.

Early reports from the US and Canada in 2017 showed permafrost temperatures are “again the warmest” measured in North America, said study co-author Vladimir Romanovsky.

Arctic sea ice usually decreases in September and this year it was the eighth lowest on record for the melting season. But scientists said they were most concerned about  the winter. They are worried about March, when sea ice is supposed to be at its highest levels.

Arctic winter sea ice maximum levels in 2017 were the smallest they’ve ever been for the season. It was the third straight year of record low winter sea ice recovery. Records go back to 1979.

About 79% of the Arctic sea ice is thin and only a year old. In 1985, 45% of the sea ice in the Arctic was thick, older ice, said NOAA Arctic scientist Emily Osborne.

This isn’t just a concern for the few people who live north of the Arctic circle. Changes in the Arctic can alter fish supply. Research also shows changes in Arctic sea ice and temperature can change US weather.

This is probably partly responsible for the current unusual weather in the United States. There have been wildfires in California and cold weather to the south and east, according to NOAA scientist James Overland and private expert Judah Cohen.

Outside scientists praised the report card.

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