Polar Sea Ice the Size of India Vanishes in Record Heat, Scientists Say
The eight panels show the November sea ice extent in the Arctic roughly every five years since 1978, when satellites started monitoring sea ice.NASA Earth Observatory
Citing satellite measurements from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Reuters reported that the extent of sea ice off Antarctica and the Arctic on Dec. 4 was 1.48 million square miles below the 1981-2010 average. To visualize just how much has vanished, the news service explained we've lost area of sea ice as big as India or two Alaskas.
"There are some really crazy things going on," Mark Serreze, NSIDC director told Reuters, adding that parts of the Arctic experienced temperatures 36 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal on certain days last month.
This season's polar sea ice is the smallest ever recorded, according to NSIDC data. Arctic sea ice hit a record low of 3.96 million square miles early December, below the 2006 record for the same time of year.
NASA's Earth Observatory also found that Arctic sea ice extent averaged 3.52 million square miles in November—the lowest November extent in the satellite record.
So it goes. Both #Arctic & #Antarctic daily sea ice extents remain lowest on record in the satellite era (Data:… https://t.co/FAzT5Rffre— Zack Labe (@Zack Labe)1480521616.0
On the other end of the globe, Antarctica's sea ice measured 4.33 million square miles, the smallest for December and beating the 1982 record, NSIDC found.
Interestingly, Antarctica's melting sea ice appears to contradict a trend that climate skeptics have cited as "proof" that climate change is not happening. While prior observations indeed showed a rise in Antarctic sea ice, NASA found that the planet's overall sea ice has been melting at an average annual rate of 13,500 square miles since 1979—or roughly the size of Maryland every year. As NASA climate scientist Claire Parkinson pointed out, "global sea ice is still decreasing."
The trends in Antarctic sea ice do not contradict evidence that the climate is warming. Watch here for an explainer on how sea ice behaves very differently in the two regions.
Dr. Jan Lieser from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre also told Australia's ABC network, "sea ice cover in the Arctic as been reducing steadily over the past several decades and climate models also predict that over time sea ice will also reduce around Antarctica."
Scientists say that the shrinking polar sea ice could be due to a number of factors including natural swings, record high temperatures, a rise in greenhouse gases or this year's El Nino event that unlocked the Pacific Ocean's warm waters.
NSIDC's Serreze said that the record-lows from both poles might be down to "blind dumb chance" but noted that "Antarctica is the sleeping elephant that is beginning to stir."
The record retreat alarms wildlife and climate experts. "Sea ice has this beautiful feature that it reflects much of the sun's energy back into space which helps to keep the climate system in the balance, if we're seeing a change in that balance we're seeing a change in the system," Lieser told ABC. "We know that krill is dependent on sea ice as a habitat. We know that certain types of seal give birth to the pups on the sea ice. If the season is shortened this can have massive implications on the ecosystem."
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research professor Anders Levermann told Reuters that low polar sea ice is a sign of man-made global warming.
"It's an extraordinary departure from the norm," he said.
Meanwhile, President-elect Donald Trump, who thinks climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, plans to entirely eliminate all climate research at NASA and is appointing fellow climate-deniers and fossil-fuel bigwigs for cabinet positions, including Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil and rumored candidate for Secretary of State.
'Shockingly Stupid': Trump to Eliminate NASA Climate Research https://t.co/6lqKg19UWr @tcktcktck @OneWorld_News— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1480042818.0
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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a sweeping climate bill on Thursday that would have put the commonwealth on a path to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.
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World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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