The damage wrought by climate change in the frozen Arctic region has been highlighted by the surge in average annual temperatures at Svalbard Archipelago beyond the freezing point for the first time in history.
Scientist Ketil Isaksen of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute noted that the average temperature in Longyearbyen, the main settlement at Svalbard, will be zero Celsius in 2016.
Calling Svalbard a prototype of what is happening in the Arctic, the scientist said the past six years has been the warmest.
The escalation in Svalbard's average temperature from minus 6.7 C (20 F) to the freezing point is really worrisome. Even in the warmest 2006, the average temperature was hovering at minus 1.8 C (29 F).
"This is a little bit shocking," Isaksen said, and added that five or 10 years ago such numbers for 2016 would have been unimaginable.
Vanishing Sea Ice
The side effects of rising temperatures in the Arctic are more manifest in the rising loss of permafrost and sea ice. Buildup of sea ice is happening at a slower pace than normal despite the approaching winter.
The ice cover of Arctic has a mix of both perennial as well as seasonal ice. Around 95 percent of older ice cover at Arctic since 1984 has vanished as disclosed in a study by NASA. In Arctic, ice grows and shrinks throughout the year with the minimum ice in September.
The study by the American space agency revealed that the area under Arctic sea ice has been declining. For example, ice cover that is at least four years old has declined from 1,860,000 square kilometers in September 1984 to 110,000 square kilometers in September 2016.
September is a benchmark in sea ice levels at Arctic, as ice volumes reach the lowest in that month. A comparison of the September decline of ice for three decades shows a fall of 13.3 percent per decade in the period from 1981 to 2010.
The damage from the loss of sea ice has long-term consequences. When sea ice is absent, more warming happens as sea ice used to be a buffer that reflects and reverts sunlight back into space preventing further warming. The loss of sea ice helps darker parts of the sea to absorb the radiation and makes the waters warmer.
According to the scientist, this year, huge areas in the Kara Sea and the Barents Sea near Svalbard are bereft of ice when compared with ice-covered times of the past.
Arctic Regime Shift
Meanwhile, the Stockholm Environment Institute called the decline in sea ice cover and slimming of the Greenland ice sheet as "regime shifts" in the Arctic as a fallout of the climate change.
The concern is doubling as studies have predicted that global temperatures are nearing a new heat record with the El Nino adding to the warming trend.