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NOAA releases its annual report on the Arctic


The Arctic is the sentinel for global climate change. The region is warming faster than the rest of the planet. And the news from this year's Arctic Report Card from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration paints a picture of profound change. Barbara Moran of member station WBUR has the key takeaways.

BARBARA MORAN, BYLINE: The last seven years in the Arctic have been the hottest since 1900. That's led to more storms, less sea ice and melting permafrost. Those changes hit home for NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad while visiting Alaska last summer.

RICK SPINRAD: My biggest takeaway from that trip is that the wolf is in the house.

MORAN: Meaning global warming is already bringing major change to Alaska and the entire Arctic.

SPINRAD: Warming waters that are forcing fish to migrate and are having ripple effects for the entire Alaskan seafood industry, fire seasons that last far longer than they ever have - that's just a snapshot of what parts of the lower 48 might expect in the very near future.

MORAN: NOAA's report card shows reduced sea ice has led to more shipping. There's also more rain and even flooding. Rick Thoman is a climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and contributed to the report. He says as the climate warms, there's more brush and trees, which fuel wildfires.

RICK THOMAN: There's much more vegetation on the tundra now than there was 50 years ago. There is now enough fuel, and we are getting enough lightning that things are burning in a way that they didn't used to.

MORAN: There's some good news in the report. Arctic geese populations are stable. But seabirds like auklets and puffins are dying in higher-than-expected numbers for the sixth year in a row, mostly from starvation. The water has gotten too warm for the fish they need to eat.

JACKIE QATALINA SCHAEFFER: When I look at the Arctic Report Card, it does seem kind of doom and gloom.

MORAN: Jackie Qatalina Schaeffer directs climate initiatives at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. She's also an Inupiaq and one of the report authors.

SCHAEFFER: But when you work with communities and you interact with people and see the vibrant cultures and the traditions that are continuing for thousands of years, that's my hope.

MORAN: Schaeffer also sees hope in the growing collaborations between Western science and Indigenous knowledge as they work together to address the challenges of climate change.

For NPR News, I'm Barbara Moran in Chicago.


Barbara Moran