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Executive Summary for January 6th

We review and analyze the latest news and most important developments in the Arctic, including carbon-tracking satellites, maps that reveal emissions impacts and how new mining operations and warmer oceans may affect whales in northeastern Canada.

Published on Jan. 6, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

New Tech Tracks Carbon Emissions, Pinpoints Their Impact

China will launch two carbon-tracking satellites in 2016 to monitor the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, reports Climate Change News.

The satellites will add new information to other space, airborne and ground-based data collectors and add credibility to the data. These already show carbon dioxide peaks in China’s industrial areas, India, Europe and North America.

Experts have criticized China’s emissions estimates as being too low. They are calculated based on how much fossil fuel is produced or burnt. The New York Times recently reported that China has been burning as much as 17 percent more coal annually than disclosed. The satellites could help clear up any discrepancies.

The Arctic has felt the brunt of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. A new study by climate scientists at Concordia University in Montreal shows just how much those regional differences can be, Ars Technica reports.

The researchers plotted the average increase in warming for every thousand gigatonnes of carbon emitted. We’ve already emitted 550 gigatonnes and add another 13 gigatonnes to the atmosphere annually, according to the article. The maps show the Arctic warming fastest and the equatorial regions lagging behind.

The map also shows the oceans are slow to change, except for the Barents and Kara seas north of Russia. They are on track for more warming, possibly because of the warming feedback that comes from shrinking snow and ice or due to changing ocean currents. The Siberian Times reports that average temperatures in these seas were the warmest they have been since 1891, when record-keeping began, and are 4C to 5C (7.2F to 9F) higher than typically measured.

Bowhead Whales Rally in Face of Warming

Despite warmer Arctic temperatures and receding sea ice, bowhead whales seem to be doing just fine, according to Nautilus. These huge whales spend all of their time in the Arctic and live for about a century, which means the older whales alive today have experienced almost the full range of Arctic climate change.

Data from populations in the Alaskan region of the Pacific Ocean and northwestern Canada suggests they are resilient to temperature changes and any shift in food sources. Inuit harvest the whales and have observed improvements in their body condition in recent years. But in northeastern Canada and western Greenland, the whales may not fare as well in the future as the copepods they feed upon are forced out by smaller, less nourishing ones.

Meanwhile, scientists studying narwhals in the Canadian Arctic have managed to count baby narwhals for the first time, New Scientist reported. The study of aerial photographs identified differences in the distribution of the young whales and may have located an important narwhal calving and nursery habitat in Eclipse Sound, near the northern part of Baffin Island.

The new information could help set harvest quotas in the area. But Eclipse Sound is also on the shipping route of a new iron-ore mine that could increase noise pollution in the waters and interfere with communications between mothers and their calves.

Recommended Reads

Top image: Scientists have identified a new narwhal calving and nursing ground in Eclipse Sound at the northern end of Baffin Island. (National Institute of Standards and Technology/Glenn Williams)

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