Arctic records tumble as ice melts: 2012 Arctic report card released at AGU

by Gareth on December 6, 2012

The latest Arctic Report Card was published yesterday at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco, and it makes grim reading. Apart from last summer’s new record low sea ice minimum, all the indicators of warming are pointing in the wrong direction. The Arctic is making a rapid transition to a new climate state. Highlights of the report (from the press release):

  • Snow cover: A new record low snow extent for the Northern Hemisphere was set in June 2012, and a new record low was reached in May over Eurasia.
  • Sea ice: Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September 2012 set a new all-time record low.
  • Greenland ice sheet: There was a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event on the Greenland ice sheet in July, covering about 97 percent of the ice sheet on a single day.
  • Vegetation: The tundra is getting greener and there’s more above-ground growth. During the period of 2003-2010, the length of the growing season increased through much of the Arctic.
  • Wildlife & food chain: In northernmost Europe, the Arctic fox is close to extinction and vulnerable to the encroaching Red fox. Massive phytoplankton blooms below the summer sea ice suggest that earlier estimates of biological production at the bottom of the marine food chain may have been ten times lower than was occurring.
  • Ocean: Sea surface temperatures in summer continue to be warmer than the long-term average at the growing ice-free margins, while upper ocean temperature and salinity show significant interannual variability with no clear trends.
  • Weather: Most of the notable weather activity in fall and winter occurred in the sub-Arctic due to a strong positive North Atlantic Oscillation, expressed as the atmospheric pressure difference between weather stations in the Azores and Iceland. There were three extreme weather events including an unusual cold spell in late January to early February 2012 across Eurasia, and two record storms characterized by very low central pressures and strong winds near western Alaska in November 2011 and north of Alaska in August 2012.

It’s well worth digging down beyond the executive summary to look at the individual reports for key elements in the Arctic — there’s a lot of detail to digest, all of it fascinating, much of it sobering, if not downright scary. This is rapid climate change, happening now. I wonder if anyone in Doha will notice?

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

CTG December 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I’m very troubled to hear that the Arctic Fox is threatened. My M.Sc. thesis was an analysis of the 11-year cycle of the Arctic Fox and Snowshoe Hare populations in Canada. Fascinating data set to work with – the earliest records were from the Hudson’s Bay Company, dating back to the 1680s. Yet another sad indicator of how we are departing from historical norms.

andyS December 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I am interested in this endangered claim for the Arctic Fox. Perhaps if you have studied this, CTG, you can fill in the gaps for me.

The arctic fox has a circumpolar range, meaning that it is found throughout the entire Arctic, including the outer edges of Greenland, Russia, Canada, Alaska, and Svalbard, as well as in Subarctic and alpine areas, such as Iceland and mainland alpine Scandinavia. The conservation status of the species is good, except for the Scandinavian mainland population. It is acutely endangered there

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_fox

We also hear that:

Diet

Lemmings are the staple food for Arctic foxes. However, they are quite opportunistic, and will eat whatever is available out on the frozen tundra, even if it means scavenging leftovers from other predators, such as polar bears!
Population

Arctic fox populations range in the hundred thousands, but fluctuate with the available lemming population.

So it appears to me that the Arctic Fox is threatened in Northern Scandinavia, bit elsewhere appears to be doing fine.

Naturally, I am concerned as the next person about the Arctic Fox. I would just love a research grant to spend a year in Nordland to study this

CTG December 7, 2012 at 7:21 am

Can’t resist a bit of science bashing, eh Andy?

I said threatened, not endangered. But then, I wouldn’t expect an anti-science know-nothing like you to know the difference between those terms.

andyS December 7, 2012 at 8:01 am

Perhaps, given that I bothered to take the time to do some research on the topic, you’d do me the favor of not claiming that I am anti science.

Why is the Arctic Fox threatened, given the figures I presented?
Is it loss of habitat, food or predators?

noelfuller December 7, 2012 at 11:28 am

Loss of habitat is one threat in that the larger red fox is spreading north as temperatures rise and the arctic fox does not care for the fight.
BBC report April 2011 – some expedition in Russia looking into this

andyS December 7, 2012 at 12:52 pm

The Red Fox story is also picked up by this ‘alarming” story from WWF, where they tell us breathlesssly

The arctic fox now appears to be extinct in Finland, and is down to extremely low levels in its remaining home in Scandinavia. The plight of the fox is highlighted by its inclusion in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. The arctic fox is classified as critically endangered (CR) in Finland, Norway and Sweden, and within the European Union.

but then they state at the end

Although it faces local extinction, the arctic fox is not considered endangered in other parts of its arctic range

http://wwf.panda.org/?147581/Climate-change-likely-culprit-as-arctic-fox-faces-extinction

viv k December 7, 2012 at 6:54 pm

@ andy -Wikipedia is doing some research??!

bill December 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm

It is if he thinks it’ll back his position. I mean this is only the just-released NOAA Arctic report card for 2012. What would they know? ;-)

So, going with the small carnivorous mammal theme, it appears the Stoat hasn’t ruined Wikipedia for the Deniers after all…

andyS December 7, 2012 at 8:47 pm

I did actually look at some other sites, for example this

where it states

Diet

Lemmings are the staple food for Arctic foxes. However, they are quite opportunistic, and will eat whatever is available out on the frozen tundra, even if it means scavenging leftovers from other predators, such as polar bears!
Population

Arctic fox populations range in the hundred thousands, but fluctuate with the available lemming population.

The Arctic fox is found throughout the entire Arctic tundra, through Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, Norway, Scandinavia, and even Iceland, where it is the only native land mammal.

Research has shown that in areas that warm, the interface between the Arctic fox being the dominant species and the red fox being dominant, moves northwards. Therefore the migration of the Arctic Fox acts as a proxy for warming. Fair enough, sounds reasonable to me.

We could probably apply the converse logic to a cooling trend, should one occur.

The map in the link I provided shows the wide extent of the Arctic fox population, of which there are around 100,000.
The Scandinavian population, however, is critically endangered
I hope that is a more detailed background for you.

bill December 8, 2012 at 12:07 am

Um, yeah, you did actually notice the bit where this is the Arctic report card from 2012. That’sa generic intro, a point that is so obvious that to overlook it can really only be seen as brazen dishonesty.

However, the same site does give us the following:

But the fox’s ability to excel in harsh temperatures can’t shield it from an altered climate. Some of the species most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are those best adapted to the cold, ice and snow. With warming temperatures, precipitation turns from dry snow to freezing rain and ice. This causes the snow tunnels of the foxes’ prey to collapse. A warming world is also allowing the boreal forest to expand northward, bringing the larger red fox, which can outcompete the arctic fox for food and territory.

And this, a ‘Climate Change 101′, that I suggest you read. Just kidding, everyone knows you cannot learn anything you don’t want to know.

Yet again, I’m left wondering what the hell it is you imagine you’re achieving here? I suggest you go back to Climate Conversations, where they’re very much more at your level, in every sense of the term…

viv k December 7, 2012 at 10:10 pm

I was just wondering if Andy, who is happy to reference wikipedia on Arctic foxes, will also accept what wikipedia has on global warming :-)

CTG December 8, 2012 at 7:17 am

I guess it’s not surprising that andy is having a hard time getting his head around the Arctic Fox news. There’s a lot of things in here that will be activating his Pavlovian anti-science reflexes. You can just hear the bell ringing and setting off his slobber reaction.

First of, there’s the issue that this is about detecting the difference between cycles and trends (ding!). In Canada, there’s an array of about 14 species that share an 11 year cycle – the Snowshoe Hare, its predators, including the Fox, Lynx and Wolverine, and the other species preyed on by those, including Musk Rats, Beavers etc, In Scandinavia, the cycle just involves the Fox and Lemming, and is roughly 4 years.

Our analysis involved Principal Components Analysis, PCA (ding!), to determine whether the cycles were being driven by the predators or the prey. I looked at Canada, and it was pretty clear that the cycle is driven by fluctuations in the Hare population – this then drives the predator cycle, which then has a knock-on effect on the other prey species. The cause of the cycle in the Hare populations is not completely clear, but likely to involve changes in plant productivity related to the sunspot cycle (ding!).

My colleague looked at the Fox-Lemming cycle in Scandinavia. The analysis was less clear there, but suggested again that it was the Lemming population driving the cycle. The boom and bust nature of the Lemming population is what is behind the myth of them jumping off a cliff, but it’s probably more that they just eat themselves out of food, population crashes, vegetation recovers and they boom again.

With PCA (ding!), you can isolate the different contributions to variation, so you can isolate the effects of the cycle from the long-term trends (ding!), so even though the population goes up and down, you can still assess whether there is a long-term increase or decrease in the population.

Finally, a note on endangered vs threatened. Threatened is the umbrella term for all the states of endangerment on the road to extinction. Endangered is a specific category on this scale that means a species is well on the way to extinction, reduced in numbers across its whole range. No one, other than andy, has claimed that the Arctic Fox is endangered. It’s current status is Least Concern, because it has a large range and healthy population through most of that range. However, if a local population or two gets wiped out, that status may well change.

andyS December 8, 2012 at 10:46 am

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment with some detailed information regarding the Arctic Fox. My “anti-science” interest is to find out a bit more about the topic and do my own investigations. I have been to Arctic regions a couple of times (East Ridge, Mt Logan, Yukon and northern Sweden)
I also spent some time in Scotland help a friend radio track Arctic hare in the Cairngorm mountains. It’s a fascinating subject and clearly you have done some interesting work in looking at the various factors using Principal Component Analysis (complete with dings)

However, my interest also piques when advocacy groups use science to further their agenda, and this is perhaps seen in this article by WWF which claims that the Arctic Fox faces extinction

So your statement, CTG, that

No one, other than andy, has claimed that the Arctic Fox is endangered. It’s current status is Least Concern, because it has a large range and healthy population through most of that range.

is a little less ‘alarming” than the WWF article, and I am more likely to take your view on this as you have actually studied the topic.

Ian Forrester December 8, 2012 at 12:12 pm

andyS is once again showing his dishonesty. Omission of information is just as dishonest as making stuff up but since andyS does not appear to have had a thorough grounding in honesty and ethics he doesn’t appear to understand the difference.

Just where is his “dishonesty by omission”? He omits the every last sentence in the WWF report he cited. Here it is in its entirety.

Although it faces local extinction, the arctic fox is not considered endangered in other parts of its arctic range.

By leaving out that last sentence andyS completely distorted the conclusions of the science behind the populations of the Arctic Fox. That is why he is referred to as being “ant-science”.

It is also interesting that he and his friend who tried to radio track arctic hares in the Cairngorms must have had a very easy and leisurely job. I bet that they managed to track exactly zero arctic hares there. The hare which is found in the Cairngorms is the mountain hare, Lepus timidus not the arctic hare, Lepus arcticus.

andyS December 8, 2012 at 12:32 pm

My apologies for incorrectly naming the mountain hare (Lepus timidus) as the arctic hare (Lepus arcticus)

I realise that my sloppy use of language can be misleading.

What I was referring to was the animal in this article

where they refer to the Mountain (arctic) hare.
Clearly, we can differentiate between the arctic hare and the mountain (arctic) hare

The key point to note is the white colouring of the hare that changes to the grey/brown colouring during the transitions between the winter and summer seasons. These can be seen in the Cairngorms and also in Northern Sweden, which exhibit similar flora and fauna, though again this might be misleading, in which case I apologise

Again, I sincerely apologise for not mentioning the note at the end of the WWF article. Of course, this is easily seen but it is not the point; the article clearly states that the Arctic Fox faces extinction without the rider at the end. Some would call this misleading. If you consider this to be dishonest of me, then so be it.

I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to you and to anyone else who finds this misleading and offensive

Ian Forrester December 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm

andyS muddies the waters again. There is no such animal as the “mountain (arctic) hare”. They are two separate species. Just because some people who are ignorant of zoology and taxonomy cannot distinguish between the two does not mean that you can combine the names and pretend that they are the same animal when they are not.

andyS December 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Again, my apologies, but the mistake is easily made.

The Arctic hare, described here is noted for its white coat during the winter months

Towards the south of its range, the arctic hare changes its coat colour, moulting and growing new fur, from brown or grey in the summer to white in the winter, like some other arctic animals including ermine and ptarmigan, enabling it to remain camouflaged as the background changes

Also, the mountain hare, described here seems to share some characteristics, viz

In summer, for all populations of mountain hares, the coat is various shades of brown. In preparation for winter most populations moult into a white (or largely white) pelage

Fascinating stuff, I am sure we will all agree.

However, I think we are done on this topic.

noelfuller December 12, 2012 at 8:26 pm

water-ice phase change capacitor for energy storage

It is a little stretch to call this topical except Gareth likes mentioning the huge quantity of heat being moved about as the arctic ocean melts or freezes.

Just for comparison take a look at these numbers:
Megajoules per kilogram
Lead-acid battery 0.1
Lithium-ion battery 0.26
ice (latent heat) 0.3
http://www.science-ebooks.com/ematrix6/battery_versus__ice.htm
Wow! Water has more energy density than a lithium battery and it’s way cheaper!

Lots of energy can be shoved about by manipulating the phase change of ice to water or water to ice. So a device that makes use of this is a tank full of water with two big coils in it, a heat exchanger sucking heat out via one coil, a solar heat collector returning heat via the other coil. Two such implementations were shown this evening by Deutsch Television.

1. Owner of some sort of apartment block or hotel or something with a lot of rooms. The heat exchanger extracts heat from a water tank filled from the guttering, the heat circulated through the rooms until the tank water all freezes. My visual guestimate had the tank capacity at 5000 litres at least. Once the water is frozen a solar heating array proceeds to recharge the tank – melt the ice for another cycle. No details were given as to the length of this cycle or how they manage with heating or cooling when the system is out of phase with requirements.

2. Same idea but immensely bigger the cycle covering summer cooling to winter heating of a large commercial building.

I recall this “new” idea being explained to me somewhat by a long deceased Auckland architect sometime in the 80s while he was trying to con me into setting up equipment to monitor the performance of a solar heating idea. The unfortunate presenter for the DT science program had no idea how inappropriate the words she was reading to describe the processes were. She said at one point “The ice has all frozen” and described the system as “a new energy source. “No it’s a battery I muttered then changed the name to capacitor as no chemical activity is involved. Its a slow charge/discharge capacitor of course. Like it?

Noel

Thomas December 12, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Sounds like and idea to augment heat pumps in cold climates (where the soil or the air is colder than the freezing point of water, so its less economical to extract heat from those for heat pump heating than from a zero degree tank of water/ice.
Unfortunately the temperature point of the water ice system is so low (zero degrees obviously) that it would seem unlikely to be useful for much else than heat pumps in an otherwise very cold region.

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