SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: December 10, 2019

SNIP: The Arctic is undergoing a profound, rapid and unmitigated shift into a new climate state, one that is greener, features far less ice and emits greenhouse gas emissions from melting permafrost, according to a major new federal assessment of the region released Tuesday.

The consequences of these climate shifts will be felt far outside the Arctic in the form of altered weather patterns, increased greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels from the melting Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers.

The findings are contained in the 2019 Arctic Report Card, a major federal assessment of climate change trends and impacts throughout the region. The study paints an ominous picture of a region lurching to an entirely new and unfamiliar environment.

Especially noteworthy is the report’s conclusion that the Arctic already may have become a net emitter of planet-warming carbon emissions due to thawing permafrost, which would only accelerate global warming. Permafrost is the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24 percent of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass, encompassing vast stretches of territory across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland.

There has been concern throughout the scientific community that the approximately 1,460 billion to 1,600 billion metric tons of organic carbon stored in frozen Arctic soils, almost twice the amount of greenhouse gases as what is contained in the atmosphere, could be released as the permafrost melts.

[T]he report concludes permafrost ecosystems could be releasing as much as 1.1 billion to 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is almost as much as the annual emissions of Japan and Russia in 2018, respectively.

The broader Arctic Report Card shows the region is undergoing extensive changes in the marine environment as well as frozen lands. The Bering Sea, in particular, has seen “disquieting” shifts in the past two years, according to the report. For the past two years, the maximum sea ice extent in the Bering Sea has been at record lows, at about 30 percent of the long-term mean from 1980 through 2010, the new report finds.

Alaska has had its hottest year to date in 2019, with no sea ice visible from the shoreline in Nome as of Dec. 9, which is highly unusual for this time of year.