Climate change is causing a 'sudden and dramatic shift' in the Arctic

Climate change is causing a ‘sudden and dramatic shift’ in the Pacific Arctic as temperatures rise and sea ice recedes

  • Experts analyzed data on water temperatures, sea ice levels and wildlife patterns from the Bering and Chukchi marine shelf located between Alaska and Russia
  • They found the Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world
  • This is causing less sea ice, early snowmelts and more  greenhouse gases
  • Wildlife is also suffering more – seals and seabirds are dying in high numbers 

Experts warn the entire world heading towards a climate crisis, but the Pacific edge of the Arctic Ocean is already feeling its effects.

A new study reveals the region underwent a ‘sudden and dramatic shift’ from 2017 to 2019′ that experts fear is irreversible and may be ‘a sign of what is to come.’

Researchers analyzed data on water temperatures, sea ice levels and wildlife patterns from the Bering and Chukchi marine shelf – both are located between Alaska and Russia.

The team concluded that the Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world, resulting in less sea ice, early snowmelts and melting permafrost that releases greenhouse gases.

Because of these environmental changes, Wales are not migrating south, seals are not breeding in the area and other marine animals are dying in large numbers.

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A new study reveals the region underwent a ‘sudden and dramatic shift’ from 2017 to 2019′ that experts fear is irreversible and may be ‘a sign of what is to come.’ Researchers analyzed data on water temperatures, sea ice levels and wildlife patterns from the Bering (pictured) and Chukchi marine shelf – both are located between Alaska and Russia

Henry Huntington, lead author of the study, said: ‘The rate of change over the study time frame came as a shock.’

‘Having a team with the expertise to put together the pieces across the whole ecosystem simply drives home how far-reaching the changes are and how much they matter.’

One of the key findings was the near-bottom waters that that typically remained close to freezing year-round had warmed for parts of each fall and winter from 2014 through 2018.

Sea ice that usually began to form each fall was either absent or lower than average into January and even sometimes February.

One of the key findings was the near-bottom waters that that typically remained close to freezing year-round had warmed for parts of each fall and winter from 2014 through 2018. Pictured is a walrus floating on ice in the Chukchi Sea

The team found that the spring ice retreat was also earlier than normal in the past few years.

And the lack of ice and warm temperatures began to dramatically affect the wildlife that call this area home.

Juvenile Arctic cod, which dominate fish communities in the surface to mid-depth waters of the northern Chukchi Sea, were substantially more abundant in 2017 than in 2012 and 2013.

The number of pink salmon also increased dramatically in the northern Bering Sea in 2017 and bowhead wales that typically head south during the cold months were found to stick around for the entire year.

Seals that use the area for breeding were absent and high numbers were reported dead on the Bering and Chukchi coasts.

Seals that use the area for breeding were absent and high numbers were reported dead on the Bering and Chukchi (pictured) coasts. The number of seabirds offshore were also found to decline from 2017 through 2019 and many died off in the region

The number of seabirds offshore were also found to decline from 2017 through 2019 and many died off in the region.

University of Alaska Fairbanks co-author Seth Danielson described the changes as a wake-up call.

‘Oftentimes, when significant ecological reorganizations take place, we are only able to try to piece the story together after the fact,’ he said. ‘In this instance, we had the unusual opportunity to be cognizant of change as it was happening so we could purposefully document the process as it unfolded.’

The big question for scientists remains whether these changes reflect a new norm.

‘What this means for the region’s human and other inhabitants remains to be seen, especially when industrial shipping and other activities are also increasing.’ 

‘What happens in the northern Bering and Chukchi seas may be a foretaste of what can be expected elsewhere in the world’s oceans in the coming years and decades,’ Huntington said.

 

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