Trump officials rush to auction drilling rights to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Trump officials rush to auction drilling rights to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

SOURCE: Seattle Times, Washington Post DATE: November 16, 2020 SNIP: The Trump administration has called for oil and gas firms to pick spots where they want to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it races to open the pristine wilderness to development and lock in drilling rights before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The “call for nominations” to be published Tuesday allows companies to identify tracts to bid on during an upcoming lease sale on the refuge’s nearly 1.6-million-acre coastal plain, a sale that the Interior Department aims to hold before Biden takes the oath of office in January. The move would be a capstone of President Donald Trump’s efforts to open up public lands to logging, mining and grazing — something Biden strongly opposes. A GOP-controlled Congress in 2017 authorized drilling in the refuge, a vast wilderness that is home to tens of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl, along with polar bears and Arctic foxes. The administration is pressing ahead with other moves to expand energy development and scale back federal environmental rules over the next few weeks. It aims to finalize a plan to open up the vast majority of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling, as well as adopt a narrower definition of what constitutes critical habitat for endangered species and when companies are liable for killing migratory birds. At the Energy Department, officials may weaken energy-efficiency requirements for shower heads before Inauguration Day. Gwich’in Steering Committee executive director Bernadette Demientieff, whose people have traveled with the caribou on the refuge for thousands of years, said in a statement: “Any company thinking about...
Alarm as Arctic sea ice not yet freezing at latest date on record

Alarm as Arctic sea ice not yet freezing at latest date on record

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: October 22, 2020 SNIP: For the first time since records began, the main nursery of Arctic sea ice in Siberia has yet to start freezing in late October. The delayed annual freeze in the Laptev Sea has been caused by freakishly protracted warmth in northern Russia and the intrusion of Atlantic waters, say climate scientists who warn of possible knock-on effects across the polar region. Ocean temperatures in the area recently climbed to more than 5C above average, following a record breaking heatwave and the unusually early decline of last winter’s sea ice. The trapped heat takes a long time to dissipate into the atmosphere, even at this time of the year when the sun creeps above the horizon for little more than an hour or two each day. Graphs of sea-ice extent in the Laptev Sea, which usually show a healthy seasonal pulse, appear to have flat-lined. As a result, there is a record amount of open sea in the Arctic. “The lack of freeze-up so far this fall is unprecedented in the Siberian Arctic region,” said Zachary Labe, a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University. He says this is in line with the expected impact of human-driven climate change. This year’s Siberian heatwave was made at least 600 times more likely by industrial and agricultural emissions, according to an earlier study. The warmer air temperature is not the only factor slowing the formation of ice. Climate change is also pushing more balmy Atlantic currents into the Arctic and breaking up the usual stratification between warm deep waters and the cool surface. This also...
Arctic Sea Ice Reaches a Low, Just Missing Record

Arctic Sea Ice Reaches a Low, Just Missing Record

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: September 21, 2020 SNIP: A “crazy year” in the Arctic has resulted in the second-lowest extent of sea ice in the region, scientists said Monday. Researchers with the National Snow and Ice Data Center said the minimum was most likely reached on Sept. 15, with 1.44 million square miles of ocean covered in ice. Since satellite measurements of sea ice began four decades ago, only 2012 has had a lower minimum, when 1.32 million square miles were measured. The 2020 minimum was nearly a million square miles less than the average annual minimum between 1981 and 2010. This year also continues an alarming streak: The 14 lowest ice years have occurred in the past 14 years. Many scientists expect that the Arctic could be devoid of ice in summers well before midcentury. “It’s been a crazy year up north, with sea ice at a near-record low, 100-degree heat waves in Siberia, and massive forest fires,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said in a statement. “We are headed towards a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean, and this year is another nail in the coffin.” Sea ice has been shrinking by more than 13 percent per decade, relative to the 1981-2010 average, as global warming affects the Arctic more than any other part of the world. The region is warming more than twice as fast as any other. Sea ice loss plays a role in this rapid warming. Ice reflects most of the sunlight that strikes it. But when it melts, more ocean is exposed. The ocean surface is darker and...
The Arctic is burning like never before — and that’s bad news for climate change

The Arctic is burning like never before — and that’s bad news for climate change

SOURCE: Nature DATE: September 10, 2020 SNIP: Wildfires blazed along the Arctic Circle this summer, incinerating tundra, blanketing Siberian cities in smoke and capping the second extraordinary fire season in a row. By the time the fire season waned at the end of last month, the blazes had emitted a record 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide — that’s 35% more than last year, which also set records. One culprit, scientists say, could be peatlands that are burning as the top of the world melts. Peatlands are carbon-rich soils that accumulate as waterlogged plants slowly decay, sometimes over thousands of years. They are the most carbon-dense ecosystems on Earth; a typical northern peatland packs in roughly ten times as much carbon as a boreal forest. When peat burns, it releases its ancient carbon to the atmosphere, adding to the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change. Nearly half the world’s peatland-stored carbon lies between 60 and 70 degrees north, along the Arctic Circle. The problem with this is that historically frozen carbon-rich soils are expected to thaw as the planet warms, making them even more vulnerable to wildfires and more likely to release large amounts of carbon. It’s a feedback loop: as peatlands release more carbon, global warming increases, which thaws more peat and causes more wildfires. A study published last month1 shows that northern peatlands could eventually shift from being a net sink for carbon to a net source of carbon, further accelerating climate change. The unprecedented Arctic wildfires of 2019 and 2020 show that transformational shifts are already under way, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London...
Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted?

Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted?

SOURCE: The Conversation DATE: September 8, 2020 SNIP: It was a grim record. On June 20 2020, the mercury reached 38°C in Verkhoyansk, Siberia – the hottest it’s ever been in the Arctic in recorded history. With the heatwaves came fire, and by the start of August around 600 individual fires were being detected every day. By early September, parts of the Siberian Arctic had been burning since the second week of June. CO₂ emissions from these fires increased by more than a third compared to 2019, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. The wildfires produced an estimated 244 megatons of CO₂ between January and August, releasing thousands of years’ worth of stored carbon. The summer of 2019 was already a record breaker for temperatures and fires across the Arctic. Seeing these events unfold again in 2020 – on an even larger scale – has the scientific community worried. What does it all mean for the Arctic, climate change and the rest of the world? Even with climate change, the severe summer heatwave of 2020 was expected to occur, on average, less than once every 130 years. Wildfire observations in the Arctic are fairly limited prior to the mid-1990s, but there is no evidence of similarly extreme fires in the years before routine monitoring started. Higher temperatures globally are likely to be driving the increase in wildfire frequency and duration. But modelling wildfires is difficult. Climate models don’t predict wildfires, and they cannot indicate when future extreme events will occur year-on-year. Instead, climate modellers focus on whether they are able to predict the right conditions for...