Climate Change Nets Record Highs and Lows in 2010

Sea ice declines coincide with rising temperatures, record breaking precipitation

01-13-2011 // Aislinn Maestas
 December Arctic Sea Ice Graph 2010

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced that 2010 tied 2005 for the hottest year on record and broke the record for wettest year. This news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement by the National Snow and Ice Data Center that Arctic ice coverage for December 2010 was the lowest for any December since satellite records began in 1979.

As National Wildlife Federation global warming scientist Dr. Amanda Staudt points out, the two records are more than coincidental: “Not surprisingly, the year which tied for the hottest year on record concluded with the lowest sea ice extent ever measured for December.”

For Arctic wildlife that depend on sea ice for survival, 2010 offered a frightening glimpse of what the future may hold:

  • Early summer melt and delayed winter freeze up of sea ice forced the polar bears of Western Hudson Bay to go without eating for approximately 3 weeks longer than usual this year.
  • In December, NOAA proposed listing bearded and ringed seals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, citing the disappearance of arctic sea ice and reduced snow cover as the major threats to the species.
  • Melting sea ice in November forced tens of thousands of walruses onto Alaska’s shores, where, according to a USGS report cited in The Wildlife Professional, “they lay packed like sardines for more than a mile.”

“The sea ice melted early, formed late and is now at a record low for arctic regions, making it much harder for Arctic species to survive in this challenging and changing environment,” said Dr. Doug Inkley, senior climate scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. “It is a very disturbing trend for which we have only ourselves to blame.”

In addition to the wildlife impacts, scientists are linking the declines in sea ice to weather patterns. These findings add to what National Wildlife Federation detailed in last year’s report, Odd-ball Winter Weather: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Northern United States, which stated that we can expect to see more erratic winter weather if climate change continues unabated.

“What was considered extreme 50 years ago is becoming commonplace as a result of climate change,” said Dr. Staudt. “It used to be big news to break a record, yet today it happens with little to no fanfare. Regardless of whether or not we acknowledge them, 2010 showed us that these trends have serious implications for the places we live and the wildlife we cherish."

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