Between October 2021 and September 2022, wetter-than-normal conditions were experienced throughout the Arctic, making this period the third wettest in the past 72 years. Since the 1950s, Arctic precipitation has increased significantly and is detectable across seasons and datasets. The effects of increased rainfall in the Arctic will affect land and ocean ecosystems in several ways, from reducing the alkalinity of Arctic surface waters to causing larval insects to emerge earlier due to warmer water. Environmental events such as typhoons are also fuelled by warm water, including Typhoon Merbok, which dramatically shaped 2022 in the Bering Sea region by bringing seas of up to 16 metres toward Alaska. In mid-September 2022, this typhoon hit the west coast of Alaska, fuelled by warmer-than-normal water temperatures. Throughout the North Atlantic subarctic, significant increases in heavy precipitation events are detectable, while areas of the central Arctic display increases in consecutive wet days and decreases in consecutive dry days. Increased rainfall in the Arctic can make rivers and waters murkier, blocking light for photosynthesis and even potentially harming animals like sharks and some whales by clogging filters needed by certain species to survive.
Increased maritime ship traffic
While sea ice decreases, maritime ship traffic escalates. The most significant increases occur among ships travelling from the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait and Beaufort Sea. Between Sept. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31. 2018, satellite-based records show an increase in maritime ship traffic which also comes with an increase in noise pollution within Arctic waters. With shipping traffic projected to continue to increase, noise levels are exacerbated, affecting species like belugas which rely on sound to communicate, find food and navigate their underwater world.
Tundra “greenness” lower than previous two years
The Arctic tundra biome is a crucial area where vegetation and underlying permafrost soils are heavily influenced by warming air temperatures and the rapid decline of sea ice, making it a “hotspot” of global environmental change. The vegetation taking over grasslands and tundra, including plants, shrubs and trees, is called “tundra greening.” In 2022, tundra greenness was high in most of the North American Arctic — in contrast to northeastern Siberia, which was unusually low. Satellite data, which is used to measure “greenness,” indicates tundra greenness declined from the record high values of the past two years but was still the fourth highest since 2000. According to the report, disturbances such as wildfires and extreme weather events have become more frequent due to the inconsistency of tundra greenness which is less available as a result of wildfires removing vegetation. Other ecological disturbances that can remove vegetation include permafrost thaw and pest outbreaks.
Arctic geese populations remain high
Despite the prevalent outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza, the population size of Arctic geese remained high with continuously stable or above historical levels. As essential indicators of environmental change, Arctic geese act as critical indicators of environmental changes as they are keystone herbivores and one of the first bird species to return to northern regions in the spring. Some species even have the potential to alter ecosystem processes if populations become overabundant.
Sea bird die-offs
Unlike the increased numbers of Arctic geese, seabirds experienced yet another year of mass bird deaths. Since 2017, communities living on the coasts of the northern Bering and southern Chukchi seas have discovered a substantial number of bird carcasses, including ducks, puffins, shearwaters and auklets. This year will have been the sixth consecutive year with higher-than-expected beach-cast seabirds, which was considered a very rare phenomenon until 2015. Carcasses were also reported along Alaskan beaches, and although reports were ~450 carcasses fewer from previous years, this remains a concern for coastal communities — and the ecosystem at large.
M. L. Druckenmiller, R. L. Thoman, and T. A. Moon, Eds., 2022: Arctic Report Card 2022, https://doi.org/10.25923/yjx6-r184.