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Arctic Council Completes Major Science Report on the State of the Arctic Cryosphere

Fact Sheet
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 12, 2011


Also available in Chinese

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined her counterparts at the May 12, 2011 Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, in welcoming the release of a major climate science report on the state of the frozen Arctic. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), a working group of the Arctic Council, released an assessment report on the impacts of climate change on Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA). The report represents the culmination of a multi-year study that included contributions from scientists and indigenous groups from all of the Arctic States and additional expertise from non-Arctic communities as well.

The report assembles the latest scientific knowledge about the changing state of each component of the Arctic ‘cryosphere’- or ice-bound environment - including snow, frozen ground, ice on rivers and lakes, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets and sea ice. The report goes on to assess how changes to human activities and ecosystem services within the cryosphere, such as freshwater supplies, will impact the Arctic ecosystem as well as people living within the Arctic and elsewhere in the world. The United States contributed to the SWIPA report by serving as the lead for several chapters and by providing numerous authors and expert reviewers.

Issues of interest

  • The last six years (2005-2010) have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic. Based on temperature measurements going back to around 1880 and using evidence such as lake sediments, tree rings and ice cores, Arctic summer temperatures over the past few decades have been higher than at any time in two thousand years.
  • The extent and duration of snow cover and sea-ice have decreased across the Arctic while the temperature of the permafrost (frozen ground) has risen by up to 2°C over the last few decades.
  • The largest bodies of ice in the Arctic – multi-year sea ice, mountain glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet - have all been declining faster since 2000 than they did in the previous decade, which may have a significant impact on the acceleration of sea-level rise in the future. Global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 to 1.6m (2.95 to 5.25 ft) by 2100, and Arctic ice loss will make a substantial contribution to this.
  • Model projections reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 underestimated the rates of change now observed in sea ice.
  • The Arctic Ocean is projected to become mostly ice-free in late summer within this century, perhaps within the next thirty to forty years.
  • Changes in the cryosphere cause fundamental changes to the characteristics of Arctic ecosystems and in some cases loss of entire habitats. This has consequences for people who depend on Arctic ecosystems to supplement their livelihoods.
  • Arctic infrastructure- including roads, sewer systems, and runways- faces increased risks of damage due to changes in the cryosphere, particularly the loss of permafrost and land-fast sea ice.
  • Loss of ice and snow in the Arctic accelerates global climate warming because the darker surface absorbs more of the sun’s energy. It could also turn the Arctic into a net source of carbon dioxide and methane and change large-scale ocean currents. The combined outcome of these effects is not yet known.
  • There remains a great deal of uncertainty about how fast the Arctic cryosphere will change in the future and what the ultimate impacts of the changes will be. Interactions (‘feedbacks’) between elements of the cryosphere and the climate system are particularly uncertain.

The Arctic Council will publish the full scientific assessment and an executive summary for policymakers, which captures the key scientific findings, found within the full report. The executive summary for policymakers is available at the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program's website: The United States urges forward looking cooperation among the Arctic countries to respond to the SWIPA Assessment’s findings and recommendations.

PRN: 2011/742

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