What scientists are saying about changes in the Arctic

Published: Jan. 31, 2019 at 3:35 PM AKST
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According to scientists, the Arctic is one of the fastest-changing and fastest-warming regions in the world, and its effects are being felt all over the planet. It was a hot topic of discussion at this year's Alaska Marine Science Symposium, which ends Thursday.

According to NOAA's 2018 Arctic Report Card, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continue to warm at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and scientists say it's something to keep an eye on.

Dr. Katrin Iken is a Professor of Marine Biology who was a guest speaker at the symposium. "The Arctic is not really an isolated area," said Iken. "We all need to care about it because we are all connected to it, and we all feel the changes in one way or another."

In 2018, Arctic sea ice covered less area and remained thinner than in the past. According to NOAA's 2018 report, the 12 lowest extents in the satellite record have happened in the last 12 years. Low sea ice and other environmental changes are causing shifts that start at the bottom of the food chain. Warmer conditions have coincided with harmful toxic algae blooms, threatening food sources.

"Changes there will come up the food chain, all the way up to charismatic species, such as polar bears," said Iken. "In the end, it has implications for the humans that are living in the Arctic who are using the Arctic as their subsistence hunting grounds."

Changes happening in the Arctic are also manifesting in other areas of the world.

"Normally we had winter, and summer, and spring, and fall, but it's not that way anymore," Iken said. "All of a sudden on the East Coast, everything just ices over and they have these arctic blast winters that they've never had before. Then we have incredible droughts in other areas of the country, or the world."

Iken says as a large mass of warm water, called the 'Blob,' has re-formed in the Gulf of Alaska, and scientists see it spreading into the Bering Sea and the Arctic. Alaskans will have to learn to adjust to these changes, but in the end, she says, it's all part of one big cycle.

"The Arctic, as a system, will still remain. It will change, but there will still be an Arctic. There will still be an Arctic Ocean. It will probably function a different way," Iken said. "Over Earth's history, we've gone through many, many different phases of ice age periods, and everything in between. And so, in a way, the earth is incredibly adaptive to change like this. As humans, I think we are way less adaptive to this, so yes we will have to deal with this."

Overall, scientists continue to see a warming trend in the Arctic. As for what we can do, climate researchers say society can help protect the environment by being aware of the amount of resources we use, in terms of carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and looking into more renewable energy sources such as wind, sunlight and tidal energy.

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