Why 2012 Was a Bad Year for the Arctic and All of Us
During 2012, the Arctic broke several climate records, including a level of unprecedented warmth that created rapid ice loss.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is warning in its “The State of the Climate in 2012″ report that last year was one of the 10 hottest since the beginning of recording global average temperatures.
In addition to this, Arctic sea ice melted to reach record lows during the annual summer thaw. To illustrate this, the report points out that in Greenland, around 97% of the region’s ice sheet melted: this a figure that is four times the expected figure based on the melt in previous years. We’re still feeling the effects of this and continued warming today, with the North Pole Environmental Agency issuing a warning that the summer ice has melted so fast and by so much that a shallow lake has formed.
Also, greenhouse gas emissions rose to worrying levels. In early May, the carbon dioxide ratio in the Earth’s atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million in readings taken at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory — this is thought to be the highest concentration in millions of years.
“Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate — carbon levels are climbing, sea levels are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting, and our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place,” Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D is quoted as saying.
This year marks the 23rd edition of the report, which is produced as part of a suite of climate services offered by NOAA for the U.S. government and wider academic research.
Other concerning observations recorded in the report include a continued rise in sea levels that reached a record high in 2012 — this even without the contributing effects of the phenomena known as La Nina that saw a significant rise in 2011.
At the same time, rising ocean salinity trends have continued.
Ocean salinity (the concentration of salt water) levels were first observed changing significantly in 2004 when saltier than average readings in areas like the North Pacific were recorded, while there were fresher than average readings in high precipitation areas including the north central Indian Ocean. This trend continued in 2012. What this means in its simplest terms is that precipitation is increasing in already wet areas while evaporation is intensifying in drier locations.
For instance, Brazil saw its worst drought in the past three decades, according to the report, while the Caribbean had an extremely wet dry season. Furthermore, the Sahel region of Africa saw record precipitation and flooding during its wet season, while nearly 87% of the American West saw drought conditions.
Sullivan is quoted as saying these findings “caution us, perhaps, to be looking at a likely future where extremes and intensity of some extremes are more frequent and more intense than what we have accounted for in the past.”
However, the report did yield a small piece of encouraging news. The NOAA analysts found that the climate in Antarctica remained “relatively stable overall.” Also, the warm air actually allowed a further positive in that 2012 saw the second smallest ozone hole observed in the past two decades.
This, of course, does not ameliorate the worrying trends observed throughout 2012 but does illustrate that when we talk about climate change, it is a complex picture.
Perhaps, to put this in perspective, the final word should go to John P. Abraham, professor of thermal sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, who was not involved in this study but who says it is a firm answer to climate change deniers:
“The latest ‘State of the Climate’ report shows that the Earth continues to heat, the atmosphere is heating, the worldwide ice loss continues, and other symptoms of our warming planet march forward, without cessation. A lot of people claim that global warming has magically stopped, but the facts, and the Earth, continue to disagree.”
Image credit: Thinkstock.