The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported Tuesday that the Arctic is “warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet.” Arctic temperatures hit a record high this year, more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average, with some areas seeing a 2 degree increase over average temps. Scientists say the higher temperatures are drastically changing the habitat of marine life, like walruses, who rely on the sea ice for survival. The melting ice also contributes to rising sea levels around the globe, posing an increased threat to low-lying coastal regions.
Logically, warmer air and water temperatures lead to increased ice melting, sending ever more fresh water into the oceans. The NOAA report indicates the largest warming trend is occurring in Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska, and Baffin Bay, off the west coast of Greenland. Scientists say Greenland has experienced “extensive” melting over 50 percent of its ice sheet, which leaves ocean water vulnerable to the sun’s rays, resulting in warmer water temperatures. Less ice and warming ocean water pose a threat to the entire ecosystem, with negative impacts on everything from weather to marine life.
In particular, NOAA scientists are concerned about fish and walruses. “The decline in sea ice is dramatically changing the habitat for walruses,” the report states, largely because the mammals “traditionally use sea ice for mating, giving birth to young, finding food and shelter from storms and predators.” With less territory to support their livelihoods, walrus are moving to new locales in large numbers. Recently, an estimated 35,000 walruses hauled out (the term for walruses coming out of the water) on a barrier island near Point Lay, Alaska, and other large groups have been spotted through aerial surveys. The large-scale haul outs are problematic to walrus survival, as the overcrowding leads to stampedes that kill calves and increase competition for limited food resources.
Images via Corey Accardo, NOAA/NMFS and Dan Pisut, NOAA/Climate.gov