2010's Hot Summer Took a Toll on Arctic Ice, Walruses, and Coral

By Eliza Strickland | September 17, 2010 9:00 am

arctic-iceThis past summer was hot. Russia burned, New York City experienced the hottest summer on record, and residents of the northern hemisphere in general agreed that a cool breeze would be rather welcome. Now more extensive climate data is coming in for 2010, and guess what? Scientists have confirmed that it was hot.

According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the first 8 months of 2010 is the warmest such January-to-August period in climate records stretching back 131 years. This period was nearly 0.7˚C warmer than the average temperature from 1951 to 1980. (NOAA announced roughly the same finding today, using many of the same temperature stations but a different analysis method.) [ScienceNOW]

Researchers say that El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean are partly to blame for raising temperatures globally this past year. But, of course, man-made climate change is the larger culprit. This summer the Arctic sea ice shrank very quickly because the ice was already thin; at the end of the summer melt the Arctic ice area was the third smallest on record.

At its smallest extent, on 10 September, 4.76 million sq km (1.84 million sq miles) of Arctic Ocean was covered with ice — more than in 2007 and 2008, but less than in every other year since 1979. [BBC]

The loss of sea ice has forced Pacific walruses to change their habits. Typically the walruses rest on sea ice in between hunting expeditions, but with the retreat of the ice they’ve been forced to clamber ashore instead. This has happened a few times in recent years; last year some researchers worried that the mass of walruses crowded together on Alaskan beaches could result in a deadly stampede (walruses reportedly spook easily). But it’s not yet clear if the new behavior is detrimental to the creatures–walrus specialist Tony Fischbach told Dot Earth that he’s investigating the issue now.


From the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific to the Caribbean Sea, coral reefs suffered this summer. Warmer ocean temperatures put stress on corals and make them more vulnerable to disease; higher temperatures can also cause the death of the colorful and helpful protozoa that live in the coral, a phenomenon called bleaching. The NOAA Coral Reef Watch warned of thermal stress throughout the Caribbean this summer, and ScienceNOW reports that Thai researchers found a drastic rise in disease and bleached corals in past months.

Reefs on both sides of the Thai Peninsula were hit, with up to 100% of some coral species bleached, says James True, a coral biologist at Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai, Thailand. He expects at least 80% of the most sensitive species to die. “A few inshore reefs got so badly damaged, they probably won’t ever come back to the way they were,” he says. [ScienceNOW]

Related Content:
80beats: Geoengineering Could Slow—But Not Stop—Sea Level Rise
80beats: NOAA’s Conclusive Report: 2000s Were Hottest Decade on Record
80beats: When Arctic Sea Ice Melts, Shippers Win and Walruses Lose
80beats: Climate Change & Disease Have “Flattened” Caribbean Coral Reefs
80beats: Sudden Slowdown in Coral Growth Could Signal Collapse of the Great Barrier Reef

Images: NOAA Coral Reef Watch

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    It takes a pretty ridiculous set of circumstances to piss off walruses and coral . . . excellent work humanity =/

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    :-) heh-heh, #1.

  • http://yahoo Marty McFly

    “But, of course, man-made climate change is the larger culprit. ”
    It’s easy to tell that the author has a bias. AND if it’s so hot now why is Greenland covered with snow and ice? Duh…..

  • tertertert

    Greenland is covered in enough ice that it will take years and years to melt it all down, but if all of Greenlands ice is turned to liquid water, the global sea levels will rise ~21ft. That just shows you how thick the Greenland iceshelf really is.
    On the Discovery Channel I saw a program where they were testing the viability of geoengineering the Greenland iceshelf by puting large white fabric over the ice near the coast (where most melting is happening) to reflect the solar radiation. In the two week period that the test was conducted, the ice under the fabric melted very little, while the exposed ice melted nearly 2ft.
    Those 2ft were just from the solar radiation. The sea ice is being ‘eroded’ from the warmer waters underneath as well as the solar radiation. That’s the same reason that the Greenland coast is disappearing faster then the mainland.

  • JD

    For some reason this year was one of the coolest and wettest I remember. Sometimes I wonder about this climate change. Seems like normal weather to me sometimes hotter sometimes cooler. Plus I am very thankful for the moisture this year. Also if there is more moisture from extra melting it can cause more clouds causing cooler temps. like it did this year where I live!

  • James

    That’s a pretty selfish comment JD.. “well it doesn’t affect me, who cares if it was hotter everywhere else”… Unfortuatly for you there is the “rest of the world” who suffered a hot and unforgiving summer..

  • http://yahoo Marty McFly

    OK, so let me clarify. At one point in history, Greenland was green, not white as it is now because it is covered in glaciers. Someone named it Greenland for a reason, eh? So, what does that mean? it means that the global average temperature was much warmer than it is now. Hence, large swings in earth’s climate happen whether or not man is here affecting it. Apparently we’re warming up now, maybe naturally or maybe not , but it has been much warmer in earth’s recent past and we got thru that just fine. So far, so good. Because earth’s climate can change so drastically without our interference we must account for those changes first and understand them before we can accurately assess our impact. We need more and bigger data studies to decide that. Nevertheless, our impact must be minimized- but we could use a lot more skeptics that use science to determine that instead of jump-to-conclusion journalists such as the author in this story.

  • rabidmob

    Marty McFly says, “OK, so let me clarify. At one point in history, Greenland was green, not white as it is now because it is covered in glaciers. Someone named it Greenland for a reason, eh?”

    Iceland is green, Greenland is icy, but to think that 6 billion humans don’t have a dramatic effect on their environment is just silly.

    Even beyond a natural cycle it is our need to control our environment.

  • Jeff

    The earth’s mass is 5.9736×1024 kg. How much is that for each person alive? If I told you we were doing something to drastically alter the elemental composition of the earth as a whole, you would scoff. I could then tell you how silly you are for thinking that its silly to say that six billion humans can’t change their environment.

    Granted, the eastern United States used to be an uninterrupted forest and we have ‘accidentally’ drained entire seas. My point is that ‘plausible’ and ‘definite’ are two different things. ‘We need to quit spewing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere’ is a different statement than ‘anthropogenic sources of gasses are causing the temperature to rise.’ The first is an opinion. The second is a statement of fact which is largely unsupported (though not contradicted) by scientific evidence. People are more interested in being right than finding out.

  • tertertert

    @ 7.
    I’m sure Greenland was at one point green, but a mile thick ice sheet doesn’t just pop up the time that humand have had the ability to a) travel that far or b) name it. According to Norse sagas, Erik The Red was exiled there and named it Greenland in order to attract others to join him. Also, the southern tip is fairly green in the summer.

    In my EnvSci courses several years ago, our professor asked “What was so bad about having a rain forest at the north pole like there was XX million years ago?” No one knew the answer so he yelled it in his jolly Scottish accent, “BECAUSE THE REST OF THE WORLD WAS A BLOODY DESERT!” So even if global warming is natural, I’d prefer that we did our best to stop it rather then be the ones contributing to it.

    On that note; @ #9 Jeff – it’s not the mass of the planet that matters, it’s the mass and composition of the atmosphere that matters. It’s proven that humans have raised atmospheric CO2 by 20% since the advent of the motorized vehicle, and the best case estimates have the CO2 hitting 500 ppm (much higher then the 1900 value of ~300) if we start building renewable energy plants and vehicles now (actually building lots of them, not just a few and claiming we’re doing something). So yes, I’d say we’re doing something.

  • fatkid

    Symantics make for some antics. Humans simply must stop treating this place like a toilet.

  • fatkid

    Symantics really make for some antics! There’s too many humans, and we must stop treating this place like a toilet. Until we figure how to innoculate ourselves with birth control from cropdusters, things will continue to spiral downward. Just remember to breathe deep when the red baron flies overhead.

  • Greg


    Scientists have come to the realization it may be the composition of the atmosphere that matters, but it is the mass of the ocean that matters.

    The top 4 meters of the ocean alone have the same heat capacity as the entire atmosphere.

    So the atmospheres energy content (heat) behaves in a far more topsy turvy way than the oceans energy content. That’s why a change in ocean flow like el nino / la nina have such a big impact on the energy in the atmosphere.

    They don’t have much effect on total ocean energy content.

    That’s why the relatively new Argo Network (2003) is so important:

    I tried to find a ocean energy content graph for the argo data, but it’s surprisingly hard to find. (I leave you to guess why that is).

    I did find this one: http://ber.parawag.net/images/NODC_OHC_2004-2010.jpg

    I don’t know that site, but assuming its an accurate graph, 2010 doesn’t look very special at all.

  • The old Norse Professor

    Someone named it “Greenland” for a reason – quite so, but get the reason right. It was an early example of p.r. by an unscrupulous developer. In The Saga of Eric the Red (Eiríks saga rauða) and other early Norse writings , it is recorded that an exiled murderer tried to set up his own safe haven “He [Eric the Red] named the land Greenland, saying that people would be eager to go there if it had a good name.” 3 small settlements struggled on for some time, but eventually vanished.

  • Edward Coulter

    Carbon dioxide, our carbon footprint etc., I am frustrated with the endless ignorance that keeps bringing up the issue. Besides that, many responders must be typing with their thumbs and/or no spell checker which adds to their appearance of ignorance by their horrendous misuse of English spelling and grammar.

    To get to the point though, CO2 has little effect on the so-called greenhouse effect in the first place. The biggest player by far, is water vapour, which is conveniently and repeated ignored by the anti-human factions out there. So, a small change in a minor greenhouse player could not posssible have a major effect, as in 1.2 x nothing is still nothing!

    More seriously, a recent article in the Journal of Cosmology, 2010, Vol 8, 1846-1862 (page numbers), by Qing-Bin Lu, Ph.D., of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Departments of Biology and Chemistry, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada has a totally different take on this misunderstood non-crisis. Check it out at the “JournalofCosmology.com” July 2010. And if it is too much bother to check this out, you proponents of the disaster scenario are all talk and no listen. Get serious and read it. It is very tough article to read because of all the Ph. D. talk but it shows that this is not a simple subject. If you do not get it, you are not qualified to comment.

    To summarize, the slowly increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2 has no additional greenhouse effect on the climate because, to quote from page 10/15, “The observed results discussed above indicate that the greenhouse effect of non-CFC gases has saturated.” Note the phrase that “the effect has saturated”. If you still do not get it, this means that more CO2 makes NO DIFFERENCE to global temperatures.

    To explain the small increase in temperature in 50 of the last 60 years, this paper shows that it can be wholly and accurately correlated to the last century’s rise in the concentration of CFC’s in the atmosphere. CFC means chlorinated fluorocarbons. You know, the refrigerant and hair-spray propellant gases that interfere with the ozone layer. Fortunately for the ozone layer and our sunburns at least, use of these chemicals has been banned for about 20 years and are now slowly declining in the atmosphere, which means the ozone layer, which protects life from dangerous short wave UV rays, is recovering.

    Lu’s forcast; continued temperature declines for the next 50 to 70 years which has already started since the year 2002. Feel any better yet? I still prefer warmer.

    Ted Coulter; B.A.Sc. U. of T., Metallurgical Engineering

  • Steve

    @ Greg The wikipedia article you reference states that “the world ocean actually has been warming since 2003” (read full context) and has a link to a graph since 1955 with 2008-2009 data included:
    The graph shows the ocean has been on an overall warming trend from that time.

    @ Marty Comments like yours that don’t included even the slightest effort to check your facts, as tertertert pointed out, only serve to discredit your position.

  • Daz

    Well, the thing is we should stop coplaining, we can consume less, use a stainless steel bottle for water instead of a bunch of plastic bottles, we can change our light bulbs for led based bulbs, we can buy a smaller car, have a bike or walk a few blocks. We can learn to buy just what is necessary, we can agree to buy stuff with less deletorious chemicals. We can bring fabric bags to the supermarket intead of always using plastic ones, we can have just one birth with our couple or better none and adopt if you want, we can stop smoking, we can learn to feel our body when we eat so that we eat what is just necessary, we can buy low flow showers, low flow faucets, we can dry clothes without a drying machine, we can plant more trees in our garden, I don’t see any beauty in a garden with just grass is a waste of terrain, we can buy less clothes and make last the ones we have until we really need more.

    There are many things we can do, istead of complaining. Just use what is necessary America is a place were we use way more than we need. Go camping a few times, and you will get a feeling of what you really need, it is little compare to what we are used to.
    I grew in a big city, I’m 23 now, and less than a month ago I saw the heaven as it is without light contamination, 23 years!!! without seeing true heaven with all stars there.
    I don’t know but Einstein did not need any electricity to formulate his amazing theories, nor did Maxwell, Newton etc… I was very fond of technology but I think it advanced more than our current mental maturity has. We praise image way to much, what is the point in overeating and then go to surgery to get slim again, what is the point in having a wife made by a surgeon or covered in makeup those are lies they have no value. We have gotten acustomed to value people for what they wear or have, nor for what they are capable of giving, a proof of it is the sentence “Keeping up with the Joneses”, that is in my view stupid. And there is where most of our problems start.
    We should just don’t get what we don’t need.
    Hope I made a point.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar