2020 Arctic Report Card: Sea ice loss, extreme wildfires

NOAA’s 15th annual Arctic Report Card, released December 8, 2020, catalogs the many ways that climate change has continued to disrupt the polar region this year, including the second-highest air temperatures and second-lowest summer sea ice, the loss of snow and extraordinary wildfires in northern Russia.

Rick Thoman, of the International Arctic Research Center, is one of three editors of this year’s report card. Thoman said in a statement:

Taken as a whole, the story is unambiguous. The transformation of the Arctic to a warmer, less frozen and biologically changed region is well underway.

First issued in 2006, the Arctic Report Card is a peer-reviewed compilation of observations and analyses of the current state of the Arctic environment from scientists and experts around the world. This year’s update consists of 16 essays by a team of 133 researchers from 15 different countries. Read the full 2020 Arctic Report Card.

EarthSky 2021 lunar calendars now available! They make great gifts. Order now. Going fast!

Towers of white ice arising from submerged pale blue base in blue sea.
Icebergs in Ilulissat, Vest Groenland, Greenland. Image via Greenland Travel/ Flickr.

NOAA listed some of this year’s significant findings:

– The average annual land-surface air temperature in the Arctic measured between October 2019 and September 2020 was the second-warmest since record-keeping began in 1900, and was responsible for driving a cascade of impacts across Arctic ecosystems during the year. Nine of the past 10 years saw air temperatures at least 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) above the 1981-2010 mean. Arctic temperatures for the past six years have all exceeded previous records.

– Extremely high temperatures across Siberia during spring 2020 resulted in the lowest June snow extent across the Eurasian Arctic observed in the past 54 years.

– The 2020 Arctic minimum sea ice extent reached in September was the second-lowest in the satellite record. Overall thickness of the sea ice cover is also decreasing as Arctic ice has transformed from an older, thicker, and stronger ice mass to a younger, thinner more fragile ice mass in the past decade.

– The MOSAiC Expedition, the yearlong expedition based from the Polarstern icebreaker in the central Arctic Ocean, drifted much faster than anticipated through thinner ice than expected, experiencing sea ice dynamics that complicated the scientific mission.

– Extreme wildfires in the Sakha Republic of northern Russia during 2020 coincided with unparalleled warm air temperatures and record snow loss in the region.

– Pacific Arctic bowhead whales have rebounded in the past 30 years, due to increases in both local plankton blooms and transport of increased krill and other food sources northward through the Bering Strait, a signal of long-term warming in the Arctic Ocean.

Bottom line: NOAA’s 2020 Arctic Report Card catalogs the ways climate change has continued to disrupt the polar region this year, with the 2nd-highest air temperatures and 2nd-lowest summer sea ice on record, the loss of snow and extraordinary wildfires in northern Russia. Watch video highlights.


December 22, 2020

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Eleanor Imster

View All