What Does the SROCC Mean for the Arctic?

The “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” reminds us that the changes taking place in the Arctic are swift, interconnected and brutal.

As the Arctic goes, so goes the world.

That line echoes in my mind as I grapple with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” (SROCC) released this week. It came just after the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York and coincides with seven-day Climate Strike that brought hundreds of thousands of youth activists together across 150 countries.

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© STEVE EASON

The SROCC report matters because for once it centers on the vulnerability of our ocean as well as the frozen parts of our planet called the cryosphere. The impacts detailed in this report are the equivalent of an ocean on fire. As the image of rivers on fire motivated an era of environmental action in the 1970s, my hope is that these dire impacts on a place we love can drive us to the action that is needed for our ocean and our planet. And the good news is that the ocean can be part of the solution too.

To be honest, this new report merely confirms with more scientific certainty a reality that Alaskans and Arctic communities are already living. For example, we’ve known for a while that the Arctic is warming at the twice the rate of anywhere else on the planet. But what that translates to out on the water and on the land are anomalies never recorded, seen or experienced before.

Just look at the crazy summer that Alaska had in 2019. Michael LeVine, my colleague and climate change expert (who lives in Juneau) literally meant it when he noted “Alaska is on fire.” We are talking about raging wildfires, higher temperatures in Anchorage than Key West, streams so hot salmon were dying and the second-lowest sea ice cover on record.

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