“In January, when an undersea telecommunications cable connecting this far-flung Arctic archipelago to mainland Norway and the rest of Europe was damaged, Norwegian officials called to port the only fishing vessel for miles, a Russian trawler. Police in the northern city of Tromsø interviewed the crew and carried out an investigation into the incident, which was seen as a major threat to the security of Norway and other nations, including the United States. Had there not been a back-up cable, the damage would have severed internet to the world’s largest satellite relay, one that connects the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and other government agencies from around the world to real-time space surveillance.
The investigation’s findings were inconclusive, if worrisome. Something “man-made” had damaged the cable, but Norwegian police could not prove the Russian fishing vessel was responsible, authorities told me. The police allowed the fishing boat crew to return to their ship and set back out to sea.”
“today, this Arctic desert is rapidly becoming the center of a new conflict. The vast sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is melting rapidly due to climate change, losing 13 percent per decade — a rate that experts say could make the Arctic ice-free in the summer as soon as 2035. Already, the thaw has created new shipping lanes, opened existing seasonal lanes for more of the year and provided more opportunities for natural resource extraction. Nations are now vying for military and commercial control over this newly accessible territory — competition that has only gotten more intense since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
“For the past two decades, Russia has been dominating this fight for the Arctic, building up its fleet of nuclear-capable icebreakers, ships and submarines, developing more mining and oil well operations along its 15,000 miles of Arctic coastline, racing to capture control of the new “Northern Sea Route” or “Transpolar Sea Route” which could begin to open up by 2035, and courting non-Arctic nations to help fund those endeavors.
At the same time, America is playing catch-up in a climate where it has little experience and capabilities. The U.S. government and military seems to be awakening to the threats of climate change and Russian dominance of the Arctic — recently issuing a National Strategy for the Arctic Region and a report on how climate change impacts American military bases, opening a consulate in Nuuk, Greenland, and appointing this year an ambassador-at-large for the Arctic region within the State Department and a deputy assistant secretary of defense for Arctic and Global Resilience. America’s European allies, too, have been rethinking homeland security, increasing national defense budgets and security around critical energy infrastructure in the Arctic as they aim to boost their defense capabilities and rely less on American assistance.
But 17 Arctic watchers — including Norwegian diplomats, State Department analysts and national security experts focusing on the Arctic — said they fear that the U.S. and Europe won’t be able to maintain a grip on the region’s energy resources and diplomacy as Russia places more civilian and military infrastructure across the Arctic, threatening the economic development and national security of the seven other nations whose sovereign land sits within the Arctic Circle.”
“In Norway’s High North, a term used to describe the Norwegian Arctic territories, no fewer than seven Russian citizens have been detained over the last few months for flying drones, prohibited under the same bans for Russian airlines in European airspace. The drones were discovered flying near areas of critical infrastructure. One of those arrested in October was Andrey Yakunin, 47, the son of Vladimir Yakunin, the former president of Russian Railways and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was sanctioned by the State Department after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.”
“Even though 2022 was only the Arctic’s sixth warmest year on record, researchers saw plenty of new signs this year of how the region is changing.
A September heat wave in Greenland, for instance, caused the most severe melting of the island’s ice sheet for that time of the year in over four decades of continuous satellite monitoring. In 2021, an August heat wave had caused it to rain at the ice sheet’s summit for the first time.”
“Warming at the top of the Earth raises sea levels worldwide, changes the way heat and water circulate in the oceans, and might even influence extreme weather events like heat waves and rainstorms, scientists say. But Arctic communities feel the impacts first.”
“Between October 2021 and September, air temperatures above Arctic lands were the sixth warmest since 1900, the report card said, noting that the seven warmest years have been the last seven. Rising temperatures have helped plants, shrubs and grasses grow in parts of the Arctic tundra, and 2022 saw levels of green vegetation that were the fourth highest since 2000”
“Changes in the ice are part of a larger “cascade effect,” as Webster describes it, in which delayed winter ice growth leads to thinner ice, which melts more easily in the summer months compared to older, thicker sea ice. This creates more open ocean.
This transformation contributes to both regional and global warming. Where a white sea ice surface would have reflected sunlight, the dark water absorbs heat, which further reduces ice growth. This change in albedo (or reflectivity) on sea and land in the Arctic is one of the main reasons the region is heating at twice the global average rate, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2019 Arctic Report Card. According to the recent Nature Communications study, it will also be a significant contributor to global warming.
Near Greenland — which holds a massive ice sheet — the warming loop set off by sea ice loss has a minor effect on its warming, but not a substantial effect on the ice sheet itself, researchers found in a 2019 study in Geophysical Research Letters.
The sea ice shift could also impact seasonal weather, potentially intensifying extreme weather. However, Labe says the issue requires further research. “Scientists are actively studying the connections between Arctic sea ice loss and wintertime weather patterns in North America, Europe, and Asia,” he said. “However, these relationships remain highly uncertain in the scientific literature and for seasonal weather forecasts.”
For now, the plummeting sea ice volumes are a startling reminder of just how rapidly the planet is changing, and how dire the consequences of delaying radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will be.”
“A heat wave begins with high atmospheric pressure building up over an area. A downward-moving air column compresses the air that’s closer to the ground, holding it still and heating it up. That high pressure also forces clouds away and around the column, creating an unobstructed line of light between the ground and the sun.
Over a period of days and weeks, the ground absorbs sunlight, and with stagnant air, heat accumulates and temperatures rise. “There’s nothing coming in and nothing going out,” explained Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. “It’s kind of like an oven basically.”
That’s the general formula for heat waves around the world. But there are also several unique ingredients contributing to the Arctic one.
In northern latitudes during the summer, there is near-continuous sunlight — even at night. That allows heat to accumulate faster than in areas that experience sunsets and can cool off in the evening.
Another factor this year was the lack of snow. With an unusually warm winter, less snow built up across parts of the Arctic, and with a warm spring, much of it melted away sooner than usual. “The snow is very reflective of the sunlight,” said Meier. “This year, the snow went away earlier, so then you have the bare ground that can absorb more solar energy.”
The warmer ground also dries out in the heat. With less moisture, there is less evaporation that can cool the surrounding air. “The drier ground and the air over the top of it makes it more susceptible to rapid warming when you have the right conditions like we’re seeing now,” Meier said.”
“One of the overarching trends behind the heat wave and the wildfires is climate change. Earth as a whole is warming up due to human emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. But every place isn’t warming up at the same rate; the Arctic is warming at double the rate of the rest of the planet, which is why some of the earliest effects of climate change are felt in the region. The north pole also presents a window into the future for the rest of the world.
Those higher average temperatures mean extreme heat will become even more likely and more intense, exacerbating threats like forest fires as vegetation dries out. “The wildfires definitely come from the extreme heat and the dryness,” Meier said.
The loss of these ancient, slow-growing forests will release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that will take decades to reabsorb, further warming the planet. Warming in the Arctic is also thawing permafrost, which releases even more carbon into the atmosphere.
And while it’s summer in the Arctic right now, the region has also experienced heat waves in the winter. In fact, researchers have found that in general, winters are warming faster than summers. That’s part of the reason why the Arctic is now losing sea ice at its fastest rate in 1,500 years.”
“Antarctica is also warming up. Earlier this year, the continent broke two high-temperature records within a week.”