Arctic temperatures continue to climb as Earth warms, NOAA says

Arctic sea ice is now thinner and weaker. Within the next 30 years, scientists expect to see a summer without sea ice.

“We’ve lost most of the old ice already and that’s a fundamentally different environment,” said Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “We’re on a trajectory as temperatures continue to increase toward a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean, but exactly what year is going to depend.”

These changes are expected to change the growth of the phytoplankton at the base of the Arctic food chain, open navigation for shipping and force changes to how Indigenous communities hunt and travel.

The Arctic Report Card has been published every year since 2006, with similar themes. This year’s report was compiled by 111 scientists from 12 nations.  

A new development in the 2021 report: Beavers, the world’s great landscape engineers, are colonizing western Alaska. Beaver ponds have doubled in number since 2000 on most parts of the Alaska tundra, the report says.

Scientists usually view the presence of beavers in the Lower 48 states as a boon. They help build complex ecosystems and environments rich in biodiversity. 

But in Alaska, their activities are helping melt carbon-trapping permafrost by redirecting water.

“It’s a big change to have them moving into the area,” said Kaare Sikuaq Erickson, a liaison between Indigenous communities and researchers, adding that the rodents’ presence changes boat access, water quality and how fish interact within ecosystems. “There are some winners and losers in this climate change thing. However, there are lot more losers.” 

Sikuaq, who is based in the Bering Sea village of Unalakleet, said community members were deeply concerned over the environmental changes being observed, but also resilient because of the remote and harsh nature of their surroundings.

“In the Arctic, we have to put things aside and focus on practical solutions or we won’t survive,” Sikuaq said, calling for other communities to reject polarization and work together to solve climate problems.

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