Arctic Climate and the Hottest Summer On Record

The Arctic is one of the earth’s crucial ecosystems. It is the dwelling place of polar bears, home to four million people, and helps regulate the earth’s climate. The Arctic is also on the frontlines of climate change.

The summer surface air temperatures during 2023 were the warmest ever recorded in the Arctic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Arctic Report Card. The highest point on Greenland’s ice sheet experienced melting for the fifth time in 34 years. It was the Arctic’s sixth warmest year on record. The Arctic’s surface air temperatures ranked as the sixth warmest since 1900. Prolonged warmer temperatures impact summer sea ice and warm waters in the major rivers draining the region.

“The overriding message from this year’s report card is that the time for action is now,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “NOAA and our federal partners have ramped up our support and collaboration with state, tribal, and local communities to help build climate resilience. At the same time, we as a nation and global community must dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are driving these changes.”

Climate Change Impacts

Salmon are essential to the indigenous Arctic communities and for commercial fishing. Indigenous communities fish chinook and chum salmon. Both declined from 2021 to 2023 after heatwaves and changes to the ecosystems in the rivers where they spawn and the ocean waters where they mature. Salmon populations along the West Coast are decreasing. The NOAA’s life-cycle models project that the Chinook salmon population in the Snake River, a major river in the Pacific Northwest, will “decline dramatically in the coming decades.”

The Arctic’s indigenous peoples contain knowledge that can help revitalize salmon fisheries. A 2020 study published in Bioscience found that for thousands of years, indigenous communities in the North Pacific developed “sophisticated systems of management” that maintained sustainable salmon stock. Colonization by Europeans “radically altered these social-ecological systems, disrupting Indigenous management.”

The 2023 Arctic Report Card included two chapters on using indigenous knowledge to keep the Arctic resilient. One of the chapters focused on the Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowlege Hub, a collaboration between the University of Alaska and Iñupiaq observers who document the impact of climate change on their communities.

In Finland, the nonprofit Snowchange Cooperative has harnessed the knowledge of the indigenous Sami people and Finnish villages to restore dozens of sites, including 1280,000 acres of peatlands and forest damaged by industrial harvesting and forest management. The restored peatlands and forests hold carbon, making them carbon storage sites.

The Canary in the Coal Mine

The Arctic serves as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, alerting humanity to the dire need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The world stands at a crossroads. We have the means to keep global warming to 1.5 Celsius and the limit climate scientists agree upon to avoid the worst impacts. Whether the world’s wealthiest countries, the ones most responsible for climate change, have the motivation to implement the reductions needed is unclear.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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