Rain at Greenland Summit Station, Beavers in the Arctic Are Cause for Alarm: Scientists

Greenland summit station's first-ever rainfall, record seasonal temperatures at the end of the last polar year and the expansion of beavers into the Arctic have become causes for concern for federal scientists in their yearly Arctic report card.

It is usually so cold at the Greenland summit station, which sits in a central location of the island, that any precipitation has always come in the form of snow, making the territory's first rainfall a red flag in the course of global warming. While the 2020-2021 polar year, which begins in October and ends in September, was only the seventh warmest on record, October through December in 2020 marked the warmest autumn on record.

Twila Moon, an editor of the report and scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, cited Greenland's contradicting weather patterns as an indicator of overall conditions in the Arctic. She said that people may believe "if something is not setting a brand new record, then it's going pretty well. And that is not true."

"If you had asked me in early July how we're doing for the Greenland ice sheet, I would have given you two thumbs up. We were having, surprisingly, what felt like a normal year," Moon said. "And then we had these really extreme melt events coming in late July and in August, creating brand new records, giving us rainfall observed at the summit of Greenland for the first time ever."

The emergence of beavers in western Alaska is also "stunning," Moon said. The 12,000 dams there are double the amount compared to two decades ago.

The animals pose a problem because they can spur additional permafrost thawing when they build a dam and cause more water to pool on the surface. This can destabilize infrastructures like roads, airports and other structures, Moon said.

"It's a real transformation or disruption of the existing ecosystem," Moon said.

Global Warming Impacts Arctic
According to a report by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released on December 14, 2021, the Arctic continues to deteriorate from global warming, not setting as many records this year as in the past, but still changing so rapidly that federal scientists call it alarming. Above, A drop of water falls off an iceberg melting in the Nuup Kangerlua Fjord near Nuuk in southwestern Greenland on August 1, 2017. David Goldman/AP Photo

"The trends are consistent, alarming and undeniable," U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Rick Spinrad said presenting the findings by 111 scientists from 12 countries at the American Geophysical Union conference Tuesday. "The loss of the great white cap that once covered the top of the world is one of the most iconic indicators of climate change."

"The Arctic is Earth's air conditioning," Spinrad said. "Billions of people rely on its moderating influence on climate. We have a narrow window of time to avoid very costly, deadly and irreversible future climate impacts."

This report card comes out as the Arctic warms two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. The region's melting ice opens the door to more pressures, including the potential for more oil and gas drilling and more mining and more tensions between countries wanting to exploit the area. For the people who live there, it means having to adapt to a ground that is getting softer as permafrost melts and changes to traditional hunting and fishing.

"It's really tough for us to live up there, let alone thrive," said report co-author Kaare Sikuaq Erickson, a community science liaison from the Bering Sea village of Unalakleet.

When sea ice hit its annual minimum in September for how far it extends, it was only the 12th lowest on record. But the rarer thick sea ice, which stays around for more than a year, was the second-lowest at the end of the summer since records began in 1985, reflecting a problem in the more crucial type of ice for the Arctic.

"The sea ice loss in the Bering Sea is extremely, extremely scary," Erickson said. "It's an ecosystem collapse situation. I think the sea ice loss in my region is probably the biggest concern."

Hours before the report card release, the World Meteorological Organization announced that it confirmed a new record warm temperature set for the Arctic in June 2020 in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk. The temperature in that Siberian town hit 100.4 degrees (38 degrees Celsius). That's an absurd temperature for the Arctic, Moon said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

It is usually so cold at the Greenland summit station that any precipitation has always come in the form of snow, but the territory recorded its first-ever rainfall in the latest polar year. A boat navigates at night next to a large iceberg in eastern Greenland, on August 15, 2019. Felipe Dana/AP Photo