US warns of record Arctic warming

Sunday 24 October 2010 00:00 BST

The Arctic region continues to warm at an unprecedented rate, impacting people and ecosystems there but also affecting populated regions of the northern hemisphere, according to an annual report published Thursday by the US government.

The Arctic, described in the report as the "planet's refrigerator," is experiencing record-setting high temperatures, ice melt and glacier area loss, said the Arctic Report Card, a study conducted by a team of 69 international scientists.

In Greenland, "summer sea ice continues to decline - the 2009-2010 summer sea ice cover extent was the third lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979, and sea ice thickness continues to thin," said the report.

"The 2010 minimum is the third lowest recorded since 1979, surpassed only by 2008 and the record low of 2007," the report added.

Snow cover duration was also at a record minimum, going back to since record-keeping began in 1966.

"To quote one of my NOAA colleagues, 'whatever is going to happen in the rest of the world happens first, and to the greatest extent, in the Arctic,'" said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report also highlighted evidence that higher air temperatures in the Arctic contributes to changes in atmospheric circulation further south, with the 2009-2010 winter in the northern hemisphere displaying a link between its extreme cold and snowy conditions and Arctic wind patterns.

"Beyond affecting the humans and wildlife that call the area home, the Arctic's warmer temperatures and decreases in permafrost, snow cover, glaciers and sea ice also have wide-ranging consequences for the physical and biological systems in other parts of the world," said Lubchenco in a statement.

"The Arctic is an important driver of climate and weather around the world and serves as a critical feeding and breeding ground that supports globally significant populations of birds, mammals and fish," she said.

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