December 12, 2017

Dr. G’s #AGU17 Spotlight – 2017 Arctic Report Card

Posted by Laura Guertin

Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades  —  2017 Arctic Report Card, NOAA

Here is the Cliff Notes version for those that are busy with end-of-the-semester responsibilities… “Despite relatively cool summer temperatures, observations in 2017 continue to indicate that the Arctic environmental system has reached a ‘new normal’, characterized by long-term losses in the extent and thickness of the sea ice cover, the extent and duration of the winter snow cover and the mass of ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic glaciers, and warming sea surface and permafrost temperatures” (2017 Arctic Report Card). Why is this important? Think national security and economic security…

View this video for a summary the 2017 Arctic Report Card and peruse Full Report Card (PDF). Additional resources include the NOAA press release, and the visual highlights on NOAA


Since 2006, the Arctic Report Card is an annual report that states environmental changes in the Arctic and the impacts on Earth’s systems (including the anthrosphere). This NOAA-led, peer-reviewed report authored by 85 scientists from 12 different countries was released at AGU Fall Meeting this year. The opening statement at the press conference for the 2017 Arctic Report Card:

“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic”  —  Retired Navy Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet, Acting NOAA Administrator

Although this isn’t anything new (this same statement was made last year at the release of the 2016 Arctic Report Card (see my blog post from AGU 2016), the following are some of the highlights contained in this year’s report:

  • — The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2017 is the 2nd warmest since 1900; however, cooler spring and summer temperatures contributed to a rebound in snow cover in the Eurasian Arctic, slower summer sea ice loss, and below-average melt extent for the Greenland ice sheet.
  • — The sea ice cover continues to be relatively young and thin with older, thicker ice comprising only 21% of the ice cover in 2017 compared to 45% in 1985.
  • — In August 2017, sea surface temperatures in the Barents and Chukchi seas were up to 4° C warmer than average, contributing to a delay in the autumn freeze-up in these regions.
  • — Pronounced increases in ocean primary productivity, at the base of the marine food web, were observed in the Barents and Eurasian Arctic seas from 2003 to 2017.
  • — Arctic tundra is experiencing increased greenness and record permafrost warming.
  • — Pervasive changes in the environment are influencing resource management protocols, including those established for fisheries and wildfires.
  • — The unprecedented rate and global reach of Arctic change disproportionally affect the people of northern communities, further pressing the need to prepare for and adapt to the new Arctic.

Jeremy Mathis, Director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program, provided a simple way for everyone to understand what is happening – think of the Arctic as a refrigerator. The climate system is opening the door, and the door has been left open, which is allowing all of the cold air to spill out. The results of the “door” being left open can be felt beyond the Arctic, with Dr. Mathis stating that the warming temperatures plus the loss of sea ice are causing the extreme weather events we are experiencing in North America (the unusual cold, drought, storm systems along the Gulf Coast, etc.).

NOAA was clear that the generation of this report fills an important role in their mission to the agency and to the American people, with the goal of disseminating the information in the 2017 Arctic Report Card to everyone from scientists to the general public.

Consider sharing the Report Card with your students next semester and why these data are relevant to their own lives. You can also have your students dive into the Arctic Report Card archives to compare prior data/videos from previous years, going back to the first publication in 2006.

Below, you can view the press conference that was held at AGU Fall Meeting for the release of the 2017 Arctic Report Card.