Melting of Arctic Sea Ice Already Setting Records in 2016
A new and fuller summary of this year’s Arctic winter by the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) confirms the preliminary announcement last week that sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on March 24 this year.
Covering an area of 14.52m square kilometers, this year’s peak winter extent is a shade smaller than the previous record low set in 2015. But the new NSIDC report adds a lot more detail about what it calls a “highly unusual” and “most interesting” Arctic winter.
With abnormally warm conditions right across the Arctic, some regions experienced temperatures 4-8C higher than average. While this meant slower ice growth in some places, in others it caused a dramatic thinning by 30cm in one week, according to early model results.
Reaching a Peak
Arctic sea ice ebbs and flows with the seasons, reaching a maximum extent for the year in February or March and a minimum in September, at the end of the summer melt period.
This year, scientists were still waiting expectantly at the end of March, explains the NSIDC report:
“Very early in the month, extent declined, raising anticipation that an early maximum had been reached. However, after a period of little change, extent slowly rose again, reaching the seasonal maximum on March 24.”
As late as a week ago, scientists still hadn’t ruled out the possibility of a late season surge. But sea ice extent has dropped off quite a bit since then, suggesting the peak has been and gone.
You can see this year’s sea ice behavior in the graph below from NSIDC, which shows sea ice extent over the 2015/6 winter (blue line) up to April 3 compared to previous years.
Arctic sea ice’s indecisive behavior throughout March meant it finally reached its maximum extent quite late in the year, 12 days later than the 1981-2010 average.
This isn’t significant in itself, says NSIDC, since the timing of the winter maximum can vary quite a lot from year to year, occurring as early as February 24 in 1996 or as late as April 2 in 2010.
This year’s winter peak reached 14.52m square kilometers or 1.12m square kilometers below the 1981-2010 average (compare the blue line with the grey line in the graph above).
At 13,000 square kilometers under the previous record set in February 2015, this year bears the title of smallest winter maximum on record by only the slimmest of margins.
In fact, it’s within the margins of error that NSIDC uses to estimate sea ice extent, says Prof. Andrew Shepherd, professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds.
Technically-speaking, that means 2016 ties with 2015 for the lowest winter peak on record, he tells Carbon Brief.
But what about the winter as a whole?
This Winter in Context
A number of factors influence sea ice cover from year to year, so the value for any month, season or year isn’t necessarily smaller than the previous one.
That said, Arctic sea ice in January was lower in 2016 than in any previous year. The same was true for February. March 2016 saw the second lowest sea ice extent in the satellite record (which dates back to 1979), says NSIDC, with 40,000 square kilometers more ice than the previous record set in 2015.
You can see the annual ups and downs in March sea ice extent in the graph below (black line). The trend over time, however, is clearly downwards. The blue line shows the decline in March sea ice extent of 2.7 percent per decade since 1979.
What’s behind this winter’s low ice extent?
The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the global average, largely in response to rising greenhouse gases.
In March 2016, nearly all of the Arctic Ocean experienced exceptionally warm conditions, says the NSIDC report, with air temperatures about 3,000 feet above the surface typically 2 to 4C higher than the long term average.
“It has been a pretty unusual winter with a lot warmer temperatures than usual, especially over Greenland, Svalbard and the Canadian Arctic. We had a brief cold spell for a couple of weeks in February over Greenland, but, otherwise, temperatures have been well above average.”
Temperatures nearer the Pole reached as high as 4-8C warmer than usual, the NSIDC report explains:
“As an exclamation point on the unusual warmth, there was a brief weather event at the very end of December 2015 when air temperatures near the Pole nearly reached the melting point.”
The strange December weather event also caused high temperatures in the Kara and Barents Seas, the report notes. According to the PIOMAS model which estimates sea ice thickness, sea ice in this region thinned by up to 30cm in the week between Dec. 28, 2015 and Jan. 4 (blue shading in the map below).
As well as the ongoing human-induced warming trend in the Arctic, the report attributes some of the particularly low sea ice extent in the Kara and Barents Seas tothe influx of warm Atlantic waters to the region.
But the scientists’ efforts to unravel the many different contributions to such unusual warmth across the Arctic are still ongoing, the report adds:
“The reasons for the persistent warmth over the entire Arctic this past winter are currently under investigation; a link with the strong El Niño pattern of this winter may be involved.”
While the unusual warmth across the Arctic “helped to keep ice extent especially low” over winter, according to the NSIDC report, it’s likely there were other factors at play, too. Prof. Julienne Stroeve, a senior research scientist at NSIDC, tells Carbon Brief:
“The slow ice growth is in part from warmer than normal air temperatures in the Arctic, but also winds that have helped to keep ice in the Barents Sea from expanding southwards.”
Sea Ice Thickness
Monitoring the health of sea ice in the Arctic means knowing about how ice thickness has fared this winter as well as extent—and the winter isn’t over yet on that front, says Shepherd. He tells Carbon Brief:
“Although NSIDC’s data show that the peak extent of Arctic sea ice this winter tied with the record low of 2015, we know that ocean water continues to freeze on to the ice base through April.”
The latest observations of sea ice thickness from the CryoSat satellite show that the ice was, on average, 1.8m thick in March, says Shepherd. This is about 10cm thinner than the same time last year, but about 10cm thicker than the record winter low in 2013.
Shepherd and his team will use measurements of thickness together with sea ice extent to estimate the volume of ice left at the end of winter. These results aren’t public yet, but Shepherd tells Carbon Brief it’s not looking hopeful:
“If things continue as in previous years, I suspect this year could see a tie with that record low for volume as well, but it’s too early to say for sure.”
Less Old Ice, More Young Ice
Monitoring sea ice thickness can tell us about the age of the ice that’s left in the Arctic, as well as how it’s changing over short timescales. The oldest ice—more than five years old—is now at record low levels, making up just 3 percent of the total ice cover, according to the NSIDC report.
Of the sea ice in the Arctic basin, 70 percent is first-year ice (which means it’s melting and refreezing each year) while only 30 percent is lasting through one summer without melting.
The map below shows the age of sea ice across the Arctic for a week at the start of March. Red is the very old (5+ years) ice in the western Beaufort Sea, while dark blue is first year ice.
The bottom graph shows how the amount of ice of different ages has changed over time for that same week in March. Very old ice (red) is showing no signs of recovery, says NSIDC, with little change since the end of a strong five-year decline in 2012. The report says:
“The bottom line is that ice no longer survives in the Arctic for very long. It is lasting three to four years tops before melting or advecting out through Fram Strait. This is a big change from the past when much of the ice cover would survive upwards of a decade.”
Outlook for 2016
Scientists are quick to point out that while this year’s winter peak is at the low end of the scale, it doesn’t necessarily mean 2016 as a whole will break records for low ice cover.
How high or low ice cover reaches at the end of summer will depend a lot on when the melt season gets underway, how long it lasts and how other weather conditions conspire to strengthen or weaken the ice. But the fact that the ice is thin after a warm winter suggest it is starting on a vulnerable footing, Stroeve tells Carbon Brief:
“The Arctic is warmer than it used to be, the melt season starts earlier and ends later and all this helps to keep the summer ice cover low.”
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15. Mantasa (Asia)<p>Mantasa is a research institution in Indonesia dedicated to expanding the number of indigenous plants consumed by the Javanese people. According to Mantasa, only 20 plant species comprise 90 percent of Javanese food needs. Their research is incorporating new wild foods from Indonesia's vast biodiversity into Javanese diets to improve food security and nutrition. Mantasa also helps promote these foods to consumers and local farmers to increase their popularity.</p>
16. Muonde Trust (Africa)<p>In Mazvhiwa, Zimbabwe, the Muonde Trust invests in Indigenous innovations in food, land, and water management. The Trust seeks out individuals with new ideas and provides peer-to-peer support to help bring those ideas to life. Muonde Trust currently supports innovations in indigenous seed saving and sharing, livestock and woodland management, irrigation systems, and constructing kitchen spaces.</p>
17. Native American Agriculture Fund (North America)<p>The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is the largest philanthropic supporter of Native American agriculture. The Fund offers grants to Tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions to support healthy lands, healthy people, and healthy economies. In 2020, NAAF is offering US$1 million in grant funds specifically for youth initiatives and young farmers and ranchers. NAAF is also centralizing COVID-19 relief information for Native farmers, ranchers, fishers, and Tribal governments.</p>
18. Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (North America)<p>The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA) places Indigenous farmers, wild-crafters, fishers, hunters, ranchers, and eaters at the center of the fight to restore Indigenous food systems and self-determination. NAFSA's primary initiatives are the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, the Food and Culinary Mentorship Program, and their Native Food Sovereignty Events. Each of these initiatives centers around the reclamation of Indigenous seeds and foods.</p>
19. Native Seed/SEARCH (North America)<p>Native Seed/SEARCH preserves and proliferates <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/07/a-call-for-community-based-seed-diversity-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank">indigenous seeds</a> through their Native Access programs. Their Native American Seed Request program offers free seed packets to Native Americans living in or originating from the Greater Southwestern Region. The Bulk Seed Exchange allows growers to pay it forward by returning 1.5 times the seeds they receive to be put towards future Native American Seed Request packs. While Native Seed/SEARCH sells an assortment of popular seeds to the general public, its collection of indigenous seeds are <a href="https://www.nativeseeds.org/pages/native-access" target="_blank">only available to Native farmers</a> and families. They hope these seeds will revitalize traditional foods and build food sovereignty.</p>
20. Navajo Ethno-Agriculture (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Navajo Ethno-Agriculture is sustaining Navajo culture through lessons on traditional farming. The seasonal courses focus on land, water, and food as students cultivate, harvest, and prepare heritage crops. During COVID-19, Navajo Ethno-Agriculture suspended its courses and is focusing on supplying neighboring farms with heritage seeds and farm equipment. They are also offering food processing and packaging services to protect and rejuvenate soil.</span><br></p>
21. North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Founded by the chefs of </span><a href="https://sioux-chef.com/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">The Sioux Chef</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) is reimagining the North American food system as a generator of wealth and good health for Native communities. The organization seeks to reverse the effects of forced assimilation and colonization through food entrepreneurship and a reclamation of ancestral education. NāTIFS is establishing an </span><a href="https://www.facebook.com/indigenousfoodlab/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">Indigenous Food Lab</a><span style="background-color: initial;"> in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a training center and restaurant for Native chefs and food. NāTIFS plans to eventually spread this model across North America.</span><br></p>
22. Oyate Teca Project (North America)<p><br></p><p>In response to dire food access on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota, the Oyate Teca Project offers year-long classes in gardening, food entrepreneurship, and traditional food preservation techniques. Oyate Teca helps make local foods available to the community by selling produce grown in their half-acre garden at farmer's markets. The project also serves as an emergency food provider for families and children.</p>
23. Tebtebba (Asia)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Tebtebba is an international organization based in the Philippines committed to sharing global Indigenous wisdom. Its Indigenous Peoples and Biodiversity project strengthens Indigenous organizations' research, policy advocacy, and education on biodiversity. The project also works directly with Indigenous communities to strengthen their governance structures, protect their land, and improve their food security.</span><br></p>
24. Sierra Seeds (North America)<p><br></p><p><a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/06/new-on-the-podcast-rowen-white-talks-indigenous-seed-sovereignty-and-viraj-puri-says-urban-greenhouses-can-transform-produce/" target="_blank">Rowan White</a> and her organization, Sierra Seeds, are dedicated to the next generation of farmers, gardeners, and food justice activists. Her flagship program, Seed Seva, offers a multi-layered education on seed stewardship and Indigenous permaculture. The program is offered online, allowing anybody to access White's wisdom. Additionally, Sierra Seeds offers a <a href="https://sierraseeds.org/seeding-change/" target="_blank">Seeding Change</a> leadership incubator, where emerging food justice leaders meet virtually to support one another while developing individual projects.</p>
25. Storying Kaitiakitanga (Oceania)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Storying Kaitiakitanga – A Kaupapa Māori Land and Water Food Story is a project of Dr. Jessica Hutchings and other Māori researchers and storytellers. The project was developed as part of the </span><a href="https://www.ourlandandwater.nz/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">Our Land and Water National Science Challenge</a><span style="background-color: initial;"> to collect the stories of Māori food producers across the food system. Storying Kaitiakitanga is exploring how traditional Māori principles and practices can inspire more sustainable food systems for the next generation. Stories include beekeepers, yogurt producers, and business development service providers.</span><br></p>
26. Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) is a grassroots Lakota organization building food sovereignty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota. Their reservation-wide Food Sovereignty Coalition is dedicated to reconstructing a healthy local food system. They have greatly increased food production on the reservation and train residents and students on Oglala food histories, current local foods, gardening, and food preservation.</span><br></p>
27. Wangi Tangni (Central America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">In Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast, the women of Indigenous Miskita communities receive native plants from Wangi Tangni to grow for food, medicine, and reforestation. The organization provides communal and legal support for women, many of whom do not speak Spanish. The organization's overall mission is to promote political participation and gender equality through sustainable development projects such as indigenous plant rematriation.</span><br></p>
28. Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">The public schools of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and Arizona partner with the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project to build gardening spaces and provide nutrition education. The partnership is intended to reintroduce traditional knowledge and practices into students' educations about food. The Project hopes that the community gardens will also inspire more Zuni to grow their own food and reduce rates of obesity and diabetes in their communities.</span><br></p>
- Indigikitchen Is Bringing Native Food Sovereignty Online - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Gardening Tips From Indigenous Food Growers - EcoWatch ›
- Indigenous Peoples Hold the Past and Future of Food in Their Hands - EcoWatch ›
By Olivia Sullivan
One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.
Kamikatsu, Japan. Yuki Shimazu / CC BY-SA 2.0<p>This reveals a worldwide truth: Even products made mostly from easily recyclable materials like paper, aluminum or cardboard can't be sorted and recycled if they contain plastic components that can't be separated.</p><p>The truth is, some materials simply aren't recyclable, and <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782" target="_blank">only 9%</a> of all the plastic ever created has <em>been </em>recycled. As Kamikatsu's residents have painstakingly proven, no matter how many categories consumers sort their waste into or how diligently they scrub down their plastic food containers, most plastics <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Greenpeace-Report-Circular-Claims-Fall-Flat.pdf" target="_blank">cannot be recycled</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile we keep hearing the <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504091-the-insanity-of-plastic-recycling" target="_blank">industry-driven narrative</a> that recycling can stop plastic from choking our marine life or littering our natural places. That's intentionally misleading.</p><p>Around the world, as in Kamikatsu, plastic is everywhere. With excessive amounts of plastic products and packaging stocked on store shelves, it's clear that zero-waste goals cannot be achieved by consumers alone. Plastic is not a "zero waste" material, so in order to achieve zero waste, companies must stop making so much plastic.</p>
Marine debris collected at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. NOAA<p>We can achieve that. The first steps include banning some of the worst and most polluting single-use plastics, placing a pause on the development of new plastics facilities, and protecting state and local governments' ability to enact more stringent regulations.</p><p>We must also shift the paradigm by holding producers responsible for the waste they create. By requiring new plastic products to contain recycled plastic and making producers fund the collection and recycling of plastic products, producers would be incentivized to design longer lasting products that can <em>actually</em> be reused and recycled.</p><p>These goals — outlined in numerous scientific studies and advocacy reports — have some forward motion. In the United States, a federal bill was recently introduced in both the House and the Senate, the <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5845" target="_blank">Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act</a>. If passed this bill — or others like it on the local, state or national levels — could help move the world beyond single-use plastics and make that needed systemic change a reality.</p><p>The bill hasn't moved forward since it was introduced this past February, but the world is still on a deadline. A recent study published in the journal <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/07/22/science.aba9475" target="_blank"><em>Science</em></a> looked at rising levels of plastic production and said "coordinated global action is urgently needed to reduce plastic consumption, increase rates of reuse, waste collection and recycling, expand safe disposal systems and accelerate innovation in the plastic value chain."</p><p>Requiring producers to stop making nonrecyclable products designed to be thrown out is the first step toward achieving that goal. Only then will Kamikatsu and other towns, cities and countries around the world finally be able to eliminate plastic pollution and reach 100% zero waste.</p><p><em>The opinions expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of </em>The Revelator<em>, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.</em></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/oliviasullivan/" target="_blank">Olivia Sullivan</a> <em><em>is a zero waste associate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) working on a campaign to move the United States beyond plastic.</em></em></p><p><em><em><span></span>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/cities-zero-waste/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>. </em></em></p>