Amid rising acknowledgement of the negative effects of climate change, a recent global scientific report suggests that the dread is justified, as high Arctic temperatures have broken all records in 2015 and could lead to an irreversible transformation of species habitats worldwide.
According to the annual Arctic Report Card study, air temperatures over land across the Arctic region were 1.3 degrees above average in 2015, breaking 115 years of record keeping.
An international team of scientists led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the Arctic has heated by three degrees Celsius since the 1990s.
“Warming is happening more than twice as fast in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world,” online news site Raw Story quoted Rick Spinrad, NOAA chief scientist, as saying.
The study pointed to abnormally high temperatures causing a rapid decrease in Arctic sea ice.
This year’s sea ice maximum occurred February 25, two weeks earlier than previously measured, breaking records kept since 1979.
“Arctic minimum sea ice extent has been declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade” relative to the 1981-2010 average, according to the findings.
The decline in ice levels has triggered a habitat change for many Arctic animal species.
Walruses, large marine mammals that need sea ice for “mating, giving birth to young, finding food and shelter from storms and predators,” have been forced to move on to land, increasing their vulnerability.
“This behavior, documented through aerial surveys, has created problems such as overcrowding which has led to stampedes that have killed calves and difficulty in finding food,” the report said.
A number of fish species have been affected by temperature shifts. In particular, subarctic fish species like cod, beaked redfish and long rough dab have been forced to move north, threatening the existence of smaller Arctic fish unprepared for new predator types.
In NOAA’s researchers view, the only way to stabilize the Arctic ice is to reduce average worldwide temperatures, and that could take years.
“The next generation may see an ice-free summer but hopefully their descendents will see more ice layering later on in the century.”
NOAA’s Spinrad observed that the report “shows the importance of international collaboration on sustained, long-term programs that provide insights to inform decisions by citizens, policymakers, and industry.”