The Arctic melts at an unprecedented pace while greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures and sea levels all hit record highs
"The findings are striking," Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA's acting administrator, said on a conference call to the Guardian. "Our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place."
The findings were published in the 32nd edition of the American Meteorological Society's State of the Climate report, which was compiled with contributions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and from more than 380 scientists from 52 countries.
According to the new report, 2012 saw record levels of greenhouse gas emissions with a global average of carbon dioxide, methane and other warming gasses reaching 392.7 parts per million. 2012 was also among the 10 warmest years on record - ranking eighth or ninth depending on dataset. As a result, and as the report shows, the Arctic has lost record amounts of sea ice, making life hard for animals such as polar bears and raising the Earth's average sea levels.
The map shows ice concentration on September 16, along with the extent of the previous record low (yellow line) and the mid-September median extent (black line).
The most dramatic changes in the climate can be found in the regions of Arctic and Greenland. In 2012, the Arctic warmed at about twice the rate of lower latitudes while both the snow and sea-ice cover had fallen to its lowest levels ever since the beginning of satellite records. At one point in 2012, Arctic sea ice had receded to 1.32 million square miles - about 18% lower than the previous record low of 1.61 million square miles back in 2007, and a shocking 54% lower than the levels in 1980. If the current rate continues, the NOAA has projected that the Arctic ocean could become ice-free by 2050.
"The record or near-records being reported from year to year in the Arctic are no longer anomalies or exceptions," said Jackie Richter-Menge, a civil engineer with the US army corps of engineers. "Really they have become the rule for us, or the norm that we see in the Arctic and that we expect to see for the forseeable future."
The graph shows monthly global sea level from 1993 through early 2013 compared to 1993-2012 average, based on AVISO data.
Global sea levels are rising as a result of the dramatic melting of sea ice, the report says. "Over the past seven years of so, it appears that the ice melt is contributing more than twice as much to the global sea level rise compared with warming waters," said Jessica Blunden, a climatologist at NOAA's national climactic data centre. During 2012, global average sea levels rose to record highs of 1.4 inches, about 35.56 mm, above the 1993-2010 average.