This undated handout photo provided by NOAA shows Arctic ice. Federal officials say the Arctic region has changed dramatically in the past five years, for the worse. It’s melting at a near record pace, and it’s darkening and absorbing too much of the sun’s heat. A new report card from the NOAA rates the polar region with blazing red stop lights on three of five categories and yellow cautions for the other two. – AP Photo

WASHINGTON: An international team of 121 scientists has found “record-setting” change in the Arctic linked to global warming, including melting ice, warming waters and changing wind patterns.

The 2011 Arctic Report Card, compiled by scientists from 14 countries, “shows that record-setting changes are occurring throughout the Arctic environmental system.

“Given the projection of continued global warming, it is very likely that major Arctic changes will continue in years to come, with increasing climatic, biological and social impacts,” the report said.

The authors of the annual report -- first released in 2006 -- said there is now sufficient data to indicate a “persistent decline in the thickness and summer extent of the sea ice cover, and a warmer, fresher upper ocean.”Average temperatures over much of the Arctic have risen some 2.5 degrees F (1.5 degrees C) from a 1981-2010 baseline, and the minimum area of sea ice recorded this year, in September 2011, was the second lowest since 1979.

The “profound and continuing” changes have had an uneven impact on Arctic wildlife, threatening the icy habitats of polar bears and walruses but giving whales greater access to northern feeding areas, the report said.

The warming has also caused new vegetation to sprout in many areas, and has led to a 20 percent increase in phytoplankton, microscopic organisms that are the basis of the oceanic food chain.

The report also found that changes in Arctic winter wind patterns first detected in 2010 have continued.

“The Arctic region continues to warm, with less sea ice and greater green vegetation,” said Monica Medina, of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Reports like this one help us to prepare for increasing demands on Arctic resources so that better decisions can be made about how to manage and protect these more valuable and increasingly available resources.”

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