Climate change is back in the news again. This time, though, it is a subtle story with more profound implications. Reports from the northernmost city in the United States stopped coming in last month. The computers monitoring the climate simply stopped reporting data. But it wasn’t a malfunction in the hardware or a bug in the software.
The climate monitoring station in Barrow, Alaska stopped submitting data because the computer program evaluating the data treated the drastic changes as false readings. The numbers were so far outside of the expectations that program refused to recognize them.
“The temperature in Barrow had been warming so fast this year,” The Washington Post writes, “the data was automatically flagged as unreal and removed from the climate database. It was done by algorithms that were put in place to ensure that only the best data gets included in NOAA’s reports. They’re handy to keep the data sets clean, but this kind of quality-control algorithm is good only in ‘average’ situations, with no outliers. The situation in Barrow, however, is anything but average.”
The rate at which the Arctic is warming outpaces that of any other region on the planet. The reason is easy to understand. The white of the ice at the pole reflects sunlight. As the ice melts, there’s less reflection and more absorption of heat.
Deke Arndt, the chief of NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch, called the missing data “an ironic exclamation point to swift regional climate change in and near the Arctic.”
2017 was the second warmest year on record in the arctic. The warmest was 2016, but 2017 saw the lowest amount of sea ice on record. The figures were announced at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The report, titled “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades,” spells it out in detail.
This thawing of ice raises sea levels. It may also expose permafrost, which thaws. In those areas, plants are quick to take hold. NOAA has been chronicling these changes.
“The current observed rate of sea ice decline and warming temperatures are higher than at any other time in the last 1,500 years, and likely longer than that,” a NOAA report reads.
“At no place is this more blatantly obvious than Barrow itself,” WAPO writes, “which recently changed its name to the traditional native Alaskan name Utqiagvik. In just the 17 years since 2000, the average October temperature in Barrow has climbed 7.8 degrees. The November temperature is up 6.9 degrees. The December average has warmed 4.7 degrees. No wonder the data was flagged.”