UASHINGTON – Scientists see a surprising melting in the polar regions of the Earth at times they do not expect, such as winter and places they do not expect, like eastern Antarctica.
New studies and reports published this week at a major earth science conference call one of the darkest images of dramatic warming in the Arctic and Antarctic. Alaska scientists, described in the Associated Press on Tuesday, have never seen meltdowns and strange winter problems, including permafrost, that never break this past winter and wildlife.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Tuesday its annual Arctic Map, which describes the second highest heat in the Arctic and problems including record low winter ice in parts of the region, increased toxic algae blooms that are usually a hot water phenomenon and changes in the atmospheric air in the rest of the country due to what is happening in the farthest north.
"The Arctic is experiencing the most unprecedented transition in human history," said chief author Emily Osbourne, head of NOAA's Arctic Research.
What is happening is a big deal, said Weled Abdalati of the University of Colorado, the former NASA chief scientist who was not part of the NOAA report.
"It's a new Arctic, we've moved from white to blue," said Abdalathi, adding that he would not usually use the word "scary", but it is applied.
And that means other problems.
"Continuing warming of the Atlantic atmosphere and the ocean causes a wide change in the ecological system in predictable and unexpected ways," the NOAA report said.
One of the most striking problems is record low ice in winter in the Bering Sea in 2017 and 2018, scientists said.
In February, the Bering Sea has lost ice in the Idaho area, "said Dr. Donald Perovic of Dartmouth College, co-author of the report.
This is a problem, as the oldest and thickest sea ice has fallen by 95% from 30 years ago. In 1985, about a sixth of the Arctic's sea ice is thick perennial ice, it is now perhaps a hundredth, Perovic said.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks, marine biologist Gee Sheffield not only studies record low ice, but lives daily in Nome, north of the Bering Sea.
"I left Nome and we had open water in December," Sheffield said at the US Geophysical Union Conference in Washington. "That affects us a lot.
"Having this ice-free area, we have this enormous change in the environment," Sheffield said, adding that there had been a "multi-species dead" of ocean life. She said that this included the first spring mass that died from the seals along the Bering Strait.
Ornithologist George Divoki, who has been studying the black balls on Cooper Island for 45 years, noticed something different this year. In the past, 225 breeding pairs of seabirds would arrive on their island. Last winter it was up to 85 pairs, but only 50 eggs and only 25 had successful hatches. He blames the lack of winter ice on ice.
"It looked like a ghost town," said Tobey.
In the full melt, especially in the summer, caribou and wild reindeer herds decreased by about 55% – from 4.7 million to 2.1 million animals – due to warming and flies and parasites it carries, said the co-author of the report map Howard Epstein from the University of Virginia.
The University of Alaska Fairbank, researcher Vladimir Romanovski, said he was worried about what happened in the time of the frozen land, which has been frozen for years. In the past year, Romanovski discovered 25 spots that froze in January and then in February, but never froze this year.
Because of the warming, the Arctic "sees concentrations of algal toxins moving north" contaminating birds, mammals and shellfish to become a public health and economic problem, said the co-author of the report, Karen Frey.
And the warmer Arctic ice and the melting of sea ice is related to the shifts in the jet that led to extreme winter storms in the East in the past year, Osborne said.
But this is not just the Arctic. NASA's newest space-based radar in Icesat 2, in the first few months, has found that Dotson's ice shelf in Antarctica has lost more than 390 feet (120 meters) since 2003, said radical scientist Ben Smith of the University of Washington .
Another study, published on Monday by NASA, found unusual melting in parts of East Antarctica, which scientists usually considered stable.
Four glaciers in the Bay of Vinns lost nine feet of ice thickness since 2008, NASA scientists Catherine Walker and Alex Gardner have reported.
The loss of glaciers in Antarctica can lead to a huge rise in sea level.
"We're beginning to see an ocean change," Gardner said. "Believe it or not, this is the first time we see it in this place.
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears.
The Associate Media Unit is supported by the Department of Science of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is fully responsible for all content.