December 14, 2016

Dr. G’s #AGU16 Spotlight – 2016 Arctic Report Card

Posted by Laura Guertin

As an AGU blogger, I am so pleased to have the opportunity to attend press conferences at the Fall Meeting and hear how new developments in Earth and space science are communicated to the press. More than 25 press events have been scheduled for this year, and this newsworthy event is one I always look for – the annual release of the Arctic Report Card. Below is how the event was shared with the press pre-meeting:

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, affecting people in the region, their cultures, the wildlife they depend on for food, and their environment. This unprecedented change has broad ramifications beyond the region for the global economy, weather, climate, sea level, trade, security and energy development. The 2016 Arctic Report Card brings together the work of 61 scientists from 11 nations to provide the latest information on multiple measures of Arctic environmental change, including air and sea surface temperature, sea ice, snow cover, the Greenland ice sheet, vegetation, wildlife and the abundance of plankton at the base of the marine food chain. The peer-reviewed report led by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will also include a report on Arctic ocean acidification and essays on the increasing pressure to effectively communicate information on Arctic change to communities and other stakeholders to help them strengthen their resilience to change.

For those that want to dive right in to what this year’s report says, please visit the home page of the Arctic Report Card (with archives and videos from previous reports), the visual highlights in Climate.gov, and/or watch the short video below.

It was standing-room only for more than 75 members of the press curious to learn more about this “stronger, more persistent signal of warming than any other year.” The panel of scientific contributors emphasized that the Report Card is a peer-reviewed report that documents the science, with the science mostly based on observations and models.

The panel reported a high-level summary, focusing on air temperature (the Arctic air temperature has increased double the rate of global temperatures), sea-ice loss, declining ice mass in Greenland (greening and browning, with thawing of carbon-rich permafrost), and the impacts on commerce and the economy (along with the need for Arctic residents to be very concerned about food security). One reporter asked about the role El Niño played in the 2016 warming, but the panel stated that scientists need more time to quantify the exact impact. The scientists did report that the model projections show that by 2040, the Arctic summers will be ice-free (but the winter months will still have ice coverage).

One reporter asked about a “grade” for this year’s Report Card. For sea ice, the Report Card was given a D+ (by a scientist that is an “easy grader”). This reminded me of when I attended the press event for the release of the 2014 Arctic Report card, when the panel said the grade would be an incomplete (their reason – the story of the Arctic needs to be told over the long term). That year, the panel also said the Arctic would be ice-free in 5-10 years, or by the end of the 21st century – they had emphasized that the planet does not need complete ice loss for big issues (such as drilling, shipping, security, etc.). For example, a luxury cruise ship is already sailing through the Arctic.

Below is a recording of the press event, for those interested in hearing/seeing what was presented.

One of the most memorable lines from the press conference was, “what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic” – a perfect statement for me to share with students and to get them to start thinking about what this means and why it is true. The Arctic Report Card is a great addition to any Earth science course that explores what is happening in the Arctic.