2015 Arctic Report Card: Visual Highlights

December 8, 2015

A view of Arctic sea ice from the NOAA P3 airplane.

Funded by NOAA's Climate Program Office, this year's Arctic Report Card documents that air temperature in 2015 across the Arctic was well above average with temperature anomalies over land more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit above average, the highest since records began in 1900. The 2015 report features updates on key indicators as well as new reports on the status of walrus, the northward movement of fishes, increasing river discharge into the Arctic Ocean, and the importance of community-based monitoring. Explore our collection of visual highlights below. 

October 2014-September 2015 average air temperatures across the Arctic compared to the 1981-2010 average and history of Arctic temperatures compared to the global average. Image by NOAA Climate.gov.

“Arctic amplification” of climate change remained in full swing in 2015. Broad areas of the Arctic were more than 5°F (3°C) warmer than average during the report card’s monitoring year (October 2014-September 2015), with temperatures over land areas record warm. The increase in temperature over Arctic regions continued to outpace the global average. Read more.

Arctic sea ice map

Map of Arctic sea ice on September 11, 2015, the date it reached its fourth-lowest extent in the satellite record.

Ten years ago, Arctic sea ice set a new record unlike anything previously observed. The 2015 low is 350,000 square miles below that. In fact, the nine lowest Arctic sea ice extents in the satellite record have all occurred in the last nine years. Read more.

Thousands of walruses hauled out on a barrier island offshore of northern Alaska in September 2014. Photo by Corey Accardo, NOAA/NMFS.

Like polar bears and seals, walruses depend on sea ice for mating, giving birth, and resting, which means they face an increasing threat from global warming. But recent population trends are so heavily influenced by hunting pressures dating back hundreds of years that using current status to predict future impacts is far from straightforward. Read more.

Range of warm water and cold water fishes in the Barents Sea during surveys in 2004 (left) and 2012 (right). NOAA Climate.gov image, based on data from Maria Fossheim.

Marine ecosystems in the Barents Sea—a sub-arctic shelf sea bordering the Arctic Ocean—are warming faster than the global average, contributing to a northward shift in fish species. Not only are there now bigger fish to fry in the region, but scientists predict the natural marine ecosystem will undergo a transformation. Read more.

Map shows the number of melt days in June, July, and August 2015 compared to the 1981–2010 average

Melt days in June-August 2015 compared to the 1981–2010 average. NOAA Climate.gov map, based on data provided by Thomas Mote.

The Greenland Ice Sheet holds some 684,000 cubic miles of our planet's fresh water as ice. If the Greenland Ice Sheet were to melt away completely, ocean level would rise roughly 23 feet. In 2015, the melt season was up to 30 to 40 days longer than average in western, northwestern, and northeastern Greenland, but was close to or below average elsewhere on the ice sheet. Read more.

Map shows overall changes in greenness over the Arctic growing season, 2010-2014.

Over the past three decades, tundra vegetation has greened up as the Arctic has warmed. But in recent years that trend has reversed.

As the Arctic has warmed over the past three decades, satellites reveal it has also been "greening up" overall, a sign that vegetation has generally become leafier or denser. But in recent years, the tundra has been “browning down,” for reasons that are still to be explained.  Read more.

Relative age of ice at winter maximum in March 2015. NOAA Climate.gov map, based on data provided by Mark Tschudi.

Since the 1980s, the amount of perennial ice (multiyear ice) has declined dramatically. In 1985, 20% of the ice pack was very old ice, but in March 2015 old ice only constituted 3% of the ice pack. First-year ice now dominates the ice cover, comprising ~70% of the March 2015 ice pack, compared to about half that in the 1980s. View animation and more details.