Tuesday 12 December 2017 19.04 GMT
Permafrost in the Arctic is thawing faster than ever, according to a new US government report that also found Arctic seawater is warming and sea ice is melting at the fastest pace in 1,500 years.
The annual report released on Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed slightly less warming in many measurements than a record hot 2016. But scientists remain concerned because the far northern region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and has reached a level of warming that’s unprecedented in modern times.
The Arctic has traditionally been the refrigerator to the planet, but the door of the refrigerator has been left open
“2017 continued to show us we are on this deepening trend where the Arctic is a very different place than it was even a decade ago,” said Jeremy Mathis, head of NOAA’s Arctic research program and co-author of the 93-page report.
Findings were discussed at the American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans.
“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic; it affects the rest of the planet,” said acting NOAA chief Timothy Gallaudet. “The Arctic has huge influence on the world at large.”
Permafrost records show the frozen ground that many buildings, roads and pipelines are built on reached record warm temperatures last year nearing and sometimes exceeding the thawing point. That could make them vulnerable when the ground melts and shifts, the report said. Unlike other readings, permafrost data tend to lag a year.
Preliminary reports from the US and Canada in 2017 showed permafrost temperatures are “again the warmest for all sites” measured in North America, said study co-author Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
Arctic sea ice usually shrinks in September and this year it was only the eighth lowest on record for the melting season. But scientists said they were most concerned about what happens in the winter – especially March – when sea ice is supposed to be building to its highest levels.
Arctic winter sea ice maximum levels in 2017 were the smallest they’ve ever been for the season when ice normally grows. It was the third straight year of record low winter sea ice recovery. Records go back to 1979.
About 79% of the Arctic sea ice is thin and only a year old. In 1985, 45% of the sea ice in the Arctic was thick, older ice, said NOAA Arctic scientist Emily Osborne.