The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) annual “Arctic Report Card” – a comprehensive review of the North Pole’s health that is assembled by more than 60 scientists.


In 2013, air temperatures in the northernmost regions of the globe were, on average, 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. Unusually warm years like 2014 have only become more frequent in the Arctic in the past fifteen years, even as the rate of warming slowed for the rest of the world.

In 2014, the Greenland Ice Sheet’s heat-deflecting brightness hit a low; spring snow cover dwindled to record lows in Eurasia; polar regions had a below-average extent of summer sea ice, and as for the polar bears that depend on that ice to survive, some populations have declined, according to the report.

“Climate change is having a disproportionate effect on the Arctic. For the past 30 years, the Arctic has been getting greener, warmer and increasingly more accessible to shipping, energy extraction and fishing,” Craig MacLean, NOAA’s acting assistant administrator for the office of oceanic and atmospheric research, said in a news briefing on December 17, at the 47th annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

From October 2013 to September 2014, the average surface air temperature in the Arctic was 1.8 degrees F above the 1981-2010 average. The amount of sea ice floating in the Arctic in September 2014 was the sixth lowest since satellites began recording such data in 1979, the report found. Though the Greenland Ice Sheet had essentially the same mass in 2014 as it did in 2013, its reflectivity, or albedo, hit a record low in August.

Unlike past report cards, 2014’s polar checkup didn’t reveal any major broken records. But the data fits in with the warming trend that researchers have been observing in the Arctic for more than three decades, said Jacqueline Richter-Menge (U.S. Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory).

The Arctic warms at a higher rate than lower latitudes because of the effect known as Arctic amplification of global warming, Richter-Menge told reporters. And that is a self-feeding cycle.

Because of their light color, sea ice and snow bounces radiation from the sun back into the atmosphere. When they melt, more of the dark-colored patches of earth and ocean are exposed, transferring more heat into the planet’s surface. And that heat gets locked!