Arctic air temperatures climb to record levels

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fall air temperatures have climbed to record levels in the Arctic due to major losses of sea ice as the region suffers more effects from a warming trend dating back decades, a report released on Thursday showed.

An undated handout photo from the Center for Northern Studies shows the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf disintegrating. REUTERS/Denis Sarrazin/Center for Northern Studies/Handout

The annual report issued by researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other experts is the latest to paint a dire picture of the impact of climate change in the Arctic.

It found that fall air temperatures are at a record 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees C) above normal in the Arctic because of the major loss of sea ice in recent years that allows more solar heating of the ocean.

That warming of the air and ocean impacts land and marine life and cuts the amount of winter sea ice that lasts into the following summer, according to the report.

In addition, wild reindeer and caribou herds appear to be declining in numbers, according to the report. The report also noted melting of surface ice in Greenland.

“Changes in the Arctic show a domino effect from multiple causes more clearly than in other regions,” James Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle one of the authors of the report, said in a statement.

“It’s a sensitive system and often reflects changes in relatively fast and dramatic ways.”

Researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, part of the University of Colorado, reported last month that Arctic sea ice melted to its second-lowest level this summer.

The 2008 season, those researchers said, strongly reinforces a 30-year downward trend in Arctic ice extent -- 34 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000, but 9 percent above the record low set in 2007.

Last year was the warmest on record in the Arctic, continuing a regionwide warming trend dating to the mid-1960s. Most experts blame climate change on human activities spewing so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Reporting by Will Dunham