It's no secret that climate change isn't a uniform occurrence over the whole planet, different parts of the globe are experiencing changes in temperature and other climate factors faster than others. One of the hardest hit parts of the globe is the Arctic region which, as I'm sure many of you know, has been experiencing rapid increases in temperature and this change is having a profound, noticeable effect on the environment.
Below is a NASA image of the North Pole in 1980 and 2003 and the decrease in ice coverage is easy to see, about 1.6 million km^2 less. Source.
An article on Reuters today titled, "Whales win, walruses lose in warmer Arctic" guided me to a great piece of global warming literature that's put out every year. The Arctic Report Card has been released annually since 2006, and this years was prepared with the work of 121 scientists from 14 different countries. The report card gives an extremely in depth look at what is happening in the arctic especially in regards to the effects of global warming. The Reuters article summarizes some of the more interesting findings and highlights a lot of the important stuff.
One of the most astounding findings is the rise in average temperature of 2.5 degrees F since the baseline average from 30 years ago. 2.5 degrees may not sound like much but it is more than enough to have drastic repercussions on a delicate earth ecosystem. The report states that the decrease in reflective surface ice and the increase in heat-absorbing deep ocean water will feed off of each other to only make the problem worse. Likewise, all of that lost ice will cause global temperatures to rise because the Arctic ice has long acted as a sort of air conditioner for the world.
As profound an effect that these developments may have on the rest of the world, the damage being to the Arctic already is still considerable. The scientists routinely referred to "a new normal" for the Arctic, in the sense that the changes that have occurred may never go away and that at least for now they are the new norm. These changed include an increase in tundra vegetation, particularly taller shrubs and grasses that will out-compete the successful mosses and lichens that grow there now. The loss of sea ice weighs most heavily on polar bears and walruses who relied on the ice for hunting. Without it, or at least with such a drastic loss, these animals will have to adapt to new ways of life or face extinction.
The report does detail a few silver linings if you want to call them that. The warmer waters and decrease in ice is actually good for the many species of whales that migrate to and from the arctic. They have access to more parts of the arctic ocean and can stay longer thanks to the higher temperatures. The report also points out that these changes can have some pluses for humans as well. Greater access to shipping routes and easier travel for tourists were the most prominent ones.