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Massive ice melt is just one of the worrying effects of 2016's 'unprecedented' warmth in the Arctic

A Ph.D. student at the University of Washington looks at a meltwater stream on the Glacial Ice Sheet, Greenland.
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A Ph.D. student at the University of Washington looks at a meltwater stream on the Glacial Ice Sheet, Greenland.

Arctic temperatures continue to rise twice as fast as the global average, and the effects are all over the region, according to a new report revealed Tuesday.

The Arctic region has become a kind of bellwether for global climate change, as the warming trend in the region appears to be so much more extreme than it is elsewhere on the planet, and its effects more apparent.

Also, scientists have begun to think that the warming of the Arctic is actually exacerbating climate change overall. For example, thawing permafrost along the tundra has led to the rotting of formerly frozen organic matter, which is contributes methane, a greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere.

Average annual land temperatures in the Arctic reached a record, at just over than 6 degrees above what they were in 1900. Snow cover levels in May fell below 1.5 million square miles, the lowest point since researchers began using satellites measure snow in 1967.

The Greenland ice sheet continued to shrink overall, and began its annual summertime melting period early enough to approach a record set in 2012 (observations began in 1979).

Minimum sea ice levels in October and November were also at a record low, and the amount of ice that persists through all seasons of the year and build up over time (so-called multi-year ice) is less than half of what it is since 1985.

Sea ice has been another source of concern, as it forms a kind of mirrored hat over the ocean, holding any ocean heat in, and reflecting sunlight away from the surface. The decline of the ice allows the ocean to absorb more sunlight, which can increase the overall temperature.

Sea ice melt cleared the way for a series of algae blooms in the region, which can have widespread effects on food webs.

"Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year," said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA's Arctic Research Program, in a news release. "While the science is becoming clearer, we need to improve and extend sustained observations of the Arctic that can inform sound decisions on environmental health and food security as well as emerging opportunities for commerce."

The report, called the Arctic Report Card, was revealed Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Society, and was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sixty one scientists from 11 countries contributed to the report.