Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Shocking Data Reveals Arctic Sea Ice Free Fall

Climate
Shocking Data Reveals Arctic Sea Ice Free Fall

Earth Policy Institute

By Emily E. Adams and Janet Larsen

The North Pole is losing its ice cap. Comparing recent melt seasons with historical records spanning more than 1,400 years shows summer Arctic sea ice in free fall. Many scientists believe that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in the summertime within the next decade or two, and some say that this could occur as early as 2016.  The last time the Arctic was completely free of ice may have been 125,000 years ago.

Between March 20 and Sept. 16, the Arctic lost ice covering 11.8 million square kilometers—an area larger than the U.S. and Mexico together, and more than in any year since satellite measurements began in 1979. At its lowest point, Arctic sea ice coverage dropped to 3.4 million square kilometers, just half the average minimum between 1979 and 2000. The 2012 minimum was 18 percent smaller than the previous record low of 2007, a drop akin to beating the world marathon record by more than 20 minutes—an extraordinary feat.

The Arctic currently undergoes an annual melt and freeze cycle, which begins in the spring when the North Pole tilts toward the sun, warming the Arctic air and water and melting sea ice and glaciers. As the sun sets over the region in the fall, the sea ice expands, continuing to thicken during the dark winter. Wind circulation patterns and storms affect exactly how much ice melts and freezes in a given year, but as temperatures have been rising over the last few decades, ice coverage in the Arctic has begun a marked decline, and in recent years the shrinkage has accelerated.

The melting of the Arctic ice cap exposes dark ocean water, which absorbs more of the sun’s energy than the reflective ice, raising regional temperatures. This in turn accelerates the ice melt and makes it more difficult for new ice to form. In these warmer conditions, the ice that does return during the winter does not grow as thick and is more prone to melting when summer returns. Throughout the 1980s, close to half of the winter ice had survived one or more melt seasons. But by the start of the 2012 melt season, only a quarter of the remaining ice was more than a year old. Because of the dramatic thinning, the total volume of sea ice is shrinking even faster than its area. In just the past five years the minimum volume of ice in the Arctic was slashed in half.

An ice-free Arctic could alter weather patterns around the globe. Furthermore, while the melting of floating sea ice does not directly affect sea level, the extra heat in the region is accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, a massive body of ice three kilometers thick. If Greenland were to lose all of its ice, sea level would go up by seven meters. While that would not happen overnight, even a one meter rise in sea level, which we could easily see this century, would have devastating consequences for us all.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

 

Plastic bails, left, and aluminum bails, right, are photographed at the Green Waste material recovery facility on Thursday, March 28, 2019, in San Jose, California. Aric Crabb / Digital First Media / Bay Area News via Getty Images

By Courtney Lindwall

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
Trending
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less