Date of this Version
This State of the Arctic Report presents a review of recent data by an international group of scientists who developed a consensus on the information content and reliability. The report highlights data primarily from 2000 to 2005 with a first look at winter 2006, providing an update to some of the records of physical processes discussed in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA, 2004, 2005). Of particular note:
• Atmospheric climate patterns are shifting (Fig. 1). The late winter/spring pattern for 2000–2005 had new hot spots in northeast Canada and the East Siberian Sea relative to 1980–1999. Late winter 2006, however, shows a return to earlier climate patterns, with warm temperatures in the extended region near Svalbard.
• Ocean salinity and temperature profiles at the North Pole and in the Beaufort Sea, which changed abruptly in the 1990s, show that conditions since 2000 have relaxed toward the pre-1990 climatology, although 2001–2004 has seen an increase in northward ocean heat transport through Bering Strait (Fig. 2), which is thought to impact sea ice loss.
• Sea ice extent continues to decrease. The sea ice extent in September 2005 was the minimum observed in summer during the satellite era (beginning in 1979), marking an unprecedented series of extreme ice extent minima beginning in 2002 (Fig. 3). The sea ice extent in March 2006 was also the minimum observed in winter during the satellite era.
• Tundra vegetation greenness increased, primarily due to an increase in the abundance of shrubs. Boreal forest vegetation greenness decreased, possibly due to drought conditions (Fig. 4).
• There is increasing interest in the stability of the Greenland ice sheet. The velocity of outlet glaciers increased in 2005 relative to 2000 and 1995, but uncertainty remains with regard to the total mass balance.
• Permafrost temperatures continue to increase. However, data on changes in the active layer thickness (the relatively thin layer of ground between the surface and permafrost that undergoes seasonal freezing and thawing) are less conclusive. While some of the sites show a barely noticeable increasing trend in the thickness of the active layer, most of them do not.
• Globally, 2005 was the warmest year in the instrumental record (beginning in 1880), with the Arctic providing a large contribution toward this increase.
Many of the trends documented in the ACIA are continuing, but some are not. Taken collectively, the observations presented in this report indicate that during 2000–2005 the Arctic system showed signs of continued warming. However, there are a few indications that certain elements may be recovering and returning to recent climatological norms (for example, the central Arctic Ocean and some wind patterns). These mixed tendencies further illustrate the sensitivity and complexity of the Arctic physical system. They underline the importance of maintaining and expanding efforts to observe and better understand this important component of the climate system to provide accurate predictions of its future state.