The Arctic will likely never return to its former frigid days because of the effects of climate change, according to the 2017 Arctic Report Card.

The report card is an evolving study started in 2006 and updated annually that looks at the current state of the Arctic’s environment. In 2017, it included contributions from 85 researchers in 12 countries.

This year it determined the climate in the Arctic has reached a new, warmer normal, and the effects of climate change on the region are virtually irreversible.

“What we used to call a really warm year in the Arctic or a really warm summer is pretty much normal now,” said Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and a contributor to the report card.

Walt Meier

Walt Meier, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, contributed to the study. (Submitted by Walt Meier)

“What we have now when it’s warm, when we get a really, relatively speaking, warm year, it’s something that we didn’t used to see ever. We are breaking records.”

The report card found some of the biggest changes to the Arctic’s environment are thawing permafrost, low volumes of sea ice and snow cover, and warming temperatures. In fact, the Arctic’s temperature is increasing at twice the rate of the global temperature.

According to David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Arctic’s climate is warming to such a degree that ice-free summers are predicted for the future. 

“It’s not about to change,” Phillips said. “And I think the best guess is the forecast that what you see is really just a dress rehearsal, the opening act of what we are going to see even greater in the years to come,” he said.

Phillips said a warming climate in the North can affect the traditional Northern way of life: it would mean people have to go out further to hunt; it will become more difficult to maintain ice roads; and vegetation can be impacted.

Reversal not impossible, but unlikely

Chris Derksen, a research scientist for Environment and Climate Change Canada, said though it is unlikely to reverse the effects of climate change in the Arctic, it is not impossible. He said because the rate of warming is tied to increased greenhouse gas emissions, a decrease in emissions could reverse climate changes.

“It would take a sustained and long-lasting effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions before we would see temperatures in the Arctic return to traditional levels we’ve seen in the past,” he said.

The Government of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources has developed a draft Climate Change Strategic Framework to deal with climate change in the territory.

The goals of the strategy are to create an economy that reduces reliance on fossil fuels 20 per cent by 2030, compared to rates of use in 2015, and to develop knowledge and understanding of climate change in the territory and how Northerners can adapt to it.

Meier said although climate change is more prominent in the North, the warming climate is a sign for what’s to come in the south.

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