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How the hottest summer ever affected the Arctic

Context-The Arctic experienced its warmest summer on record in 2023, with temperatures rising nearly four times faster than the global average since 1979 due to climate change. Additionally, the Arctic had its sixth-warmest year on record since reliable record-keeping began in 1900.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual Arctic Report Card on Wednesday, December 13. The report was based on a peer-reviewed analysis conducted by 82 scientists from 13 countries and contained several key findings.

THAWING OF SUBSEA PERMAFROST

  • Subsea permafrost is frozen soil beneath the seabed that contains organic matter. Although it has been thawing gradually for thousands of years, warmer ocean temperatures are accelerating this process, which is a cause of concern for scientists.
  • When subsea permafrost thaws, the organic matter it contains decays and releases methane and carbon dioxide, which are greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming and worsen ocean acidification. This is similar to permafrost on land.
  • Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research to estimate how much greenhouse gasses subsea permafrost will release in the coming years and what effect it will have on global warmine.

 FOOD INSECURITY

  • Due to the impact of climate change on freshwater bodies and marine ecosystems, Western Alaska experienced another year of extremely low numbers of Chinook and chum salmon in 2023.
  • The number of Chinook and chum salmon was 81% and 92% below the 30-year mean, respectively. Additionally, the size of adult salmon has decreased, leading to fishery closures, worsened user conflicts, and profound cultural and food security impacts in Indigenous communities that have been tied to salmon for millennia.
  • Interestingly, while the population of Chinook and chum salmon declined, sockeye salmon increased in number by 98% above the 30-year mean in Western Alaska

RAGING WILDFIRES

  • Canada, with 40% of its land mass considered Arctic and Northern, was one of the regions most affected by wildfires. In 2023, the country experienced its worst wildfire season on record, with fires burning more than 10 million acres in the Northwest Territories.
  • This was due to high temperatures that dried up vegetation and soil, coupled with below-average rainfall, creating perfect conditions for wildfires to burn more easily.
  • More than two-thirds of the territories’ population of 46,000 people had to be evacuated at various points, and smoke from the fires reached millions more people, reducing air quality as far as the southern United States

SEVERE FLOODING

  • According to a NOAA report, the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska has been dramatically thinning over the past 20 years due to rising temperatures, leading to annual floods in the region.
  • In August 2023, a glacial lake on a tributary of the Mendenhall Glacier burst through its ice dam and caused unprecedented flooding and severe property damage in Alaska’s Juneau.

GREENLAND ICE SHEET MELTING

  • According to a NOAA report, the highest point on Greenland’s ice sheet experienced melting for only the fifth time in the 34-year record.
  • Despite above-average winter snow accumulation, the ice sheet continued to lose mass, shedding roughly 350 trillion pounds of mass between August 2022 and September 2023 . It is noteworthy that Greenland’s ice sheet melting is the second-largest contributor to sea-level rise.

Conclusion-

The northern polar region has been experiencing the adverse effects of rising temperatures, including unprecedented wildfires, decline in sea ice extent, devastating floods, food insecurity, and a rise in sea level. These events have had a significant impact on the environment and the people living in the region.

To mitigate these effects, it is essential for all countries to come together and work towards achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement . The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels . Achieving these goals will require a collective effort from all countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a low-carbon economy.

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