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Report Card 2017

Arctic Ocean Primary Productivity

Autotrophic minute algae living in the sea ice (ice algae) and water column (phytoplankton) are the main primary producers in the Arctic Ocean. Through photosynthesis, they transform dissolved inorganic carbon dioxide into organic material. Consequently, primary production provides a key ecosystem service by providing energy to the entire food web in the oceans.

Terrestrial Permafrost

Permafrost is an important component of the Arctic landscape, influencing hydrological systems and ecosystems and also presenting challenges to infrastructure development. Permafrost temperature and active layer thickness are key indicators of changes in permafrost conditions.

Groundfish Fisheries in the Eastern Bering Sea

The Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) is a highly productive ecosystem characterized by a broad continental shelf and narrow slope to a deep-sea basin. Commercial fisheries in the EBS represent over 40% of fish landed annually in US waters, and the system has long supported one of the largest fisheries in the world: walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus).

Wildland Fire in High Latitudes

Despite the low annual temperatures and short growing seasons characteristic of northern ecosystems, wildland fire affects both Boreal forest and adjacent tundra regions. In fact, fire is the dominant ecological disturbance in boreal forest, the world’s largest terrestrial biome.

Tundra Greenness

Vegetation in the Arctic tundra has been responding to environmental changes over the course of the last several decades, with the tendency being an increase in the quantity of above-ground vegetation (i.e. “greening”). These vegetation changes vary spatially throughout the circumpolar Arctic in both direction and magnitude, and they are not always consistent over time. This suggests complex interactions among atmosphere, ground (soils and permafrost), vegetation, and herbivore components of the Arctic system.

Paleoceanographic Perspectives on Arctic Ocean Change

The Arctic Ocean is presently experiencing changes in ocean temperature and sea ice extent that are unprecedented in the observational time period. To provide context for the current changes, scientists turn to paleo records of past climate to document and study natural variability in the Arctic system. Paleoceanographic records that extend limited Arctic instrumental measurements are central to improving our understanding of sea ice dynamics and ocean warming and for enhancing the predictive capability of models. By coupling paleoceanographic records with modern observations, scientists can also contextualize the rate and magnitude of modern change with the deep past.

Executive Summary

The Arctic Report Card, going into its 12th year, considers a range of environmental observations throughout the Arctic, and is updated annually. As in previous years, the 2017 update highlights the changes that continue to occur in, and among, the physical and biological components of the Arctic environmental system.

Collecting Environmental Intelligence in the New Arctic

Shortly after the beginning of the 21st Century, the Arctic began an environmental transition so extensive that it caught scientists, policymakers, and residents by surprise. The extent and duration of these transitions defines the New Arctic, characterized by the lowest winter maximum in sea ice cover on record for 2017, the persistent and record warming of sea surface temperatures across the Arctic, and the downward trend in total ice mass of the Greenland ice sheet, just to name a few. The unprecedented rate and global reach of these changes highlight the pressing need to prepare for and adapt to the New Arctic.

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