Executive Summary for April 15th

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including how an early start to Greenland’s melt season surprised scientists and an environmental group’s decision to involve the courts in the fight over Lancaster Sound.

Published on April 15, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Unusual Early Melt for Greenland Ice Sheet

At first, Danish climate scientists thought their models were broken. But it was, in fact, records that were being smashed.

On Monday, the Greenland ice sheet moved into its melt season, a month ahead of the former earliest date of May 5, 2010, according to scientists at the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI).

“We had to check that our models were still working properly,” said Peter Langen, a climate scientist at the DMI.

Like Arctic sea ice, Greenland’s ice sheet goes through annual freeze-thaw cycles. The melt season begins when 10 percent of the ice sheet’s surface has a layer of meltwater at least a millimeter deep (0.04 inches). Almost 12 percent of the ice sheet is now in melting mode.

High temperatures were recorded across Greenland on Monday. A weather station near Kangerlussuaq recorded a maximum temperature of 3.1C (37.6F), closer to temperatures typically seen in July.

The early start has scientists worried about the outcome of this year’s melt season. Even if the unusually warm temperatures return to normal, the early melt will have left behind conditions that make it easier for melting to restart.

During the 2012 melt season, Greenland lost 562 gigatons (billion tons) of freshwater to the ocean, enough to raise global sea levels by more than a millimeter, reported the Washington Post.

The unusually warm weather has thrown off the plans of several scientific expeditions. A team from the University of Colorado at Boulder had planned to arrive in Kangerlussuaq next week, well ahead of the melt season to do their work, which requires below freezing temperatures.

“Putting a warm, wet drill down a cold borehole (still -20C [-4F] from the previous winter’s cold) is a recipe for getting a $10,000 ice drill irrevocably stuck, far deeper than we could hope to dig and retrieve it. We don’t like to lose $10K drills more than we need, so we avoid the melt season at all costs , even if it means arriving and working in -40C temperatures,” ice sheet researcher Mike McFerrin wrote in a blog post.

Jason Box, a glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland who studies Greenland’s changing ice condition, has been using Twitter to post updates and comments from Greenlanders about the melt, #earlymelt2016 .

Tussle Over Oil Permits Intensifies

The World Wildlife Fund-Canada is fighting Shell’s Arctic oil permits in Canada’s eastern Arctic.

The environmental group says that the 30 permits held by Shell Canada expired decades ago and that the permits have delayed the creation of a national marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound, reported CBC News. WWF-Canada has filed suit with the Federal Court.

“Lancaster Sound is one of the richest and most biodiverse marine areas in the Arctic,” wrote Paul Crowley, director of the WWF Arctic Program, in the Arctic Journal. According to WWF records, the permits, which were issued in 1971, should have expired in May 1979.

The area lies at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage, sandwiched between Devon Island, to the north, and Baffin Island, to the south. Inuit organizations and Parks Canada have been trying to form a conservation area around Lancaster Sound that includes areas where Shell Canada had been granted oil and gas exploration permits , reported Nunatsiaq Online.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, a federal government agency, backs the validity of the permits.

Russian Arctic Research Gets Boost

Russia has been building up its Arctic research lately. This week, the Independent Barents Observer reported that regional authorities in Arkhangelsk said they would establish a new federal science center on the Arctic .

The new center, which will be fully operational by 2020, will house 500 researchers. They will occupy a four-storey building complex to be built at a cost of more than 500 million rubles (about $7.5 million) in downtown Arkhangelsk.

Meanwhile, the Arctic Council has negotiated an agreement that will make it easier for Russian researchers to continue their work on international projects, despite sanctions, The Arctic reported.

Recommended Reading

Top image: Ice breaks up in a fjord in Greenland. (Pixabay)

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