Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Shocking Data Reveals Arctic Sea Ice Free Fall

Climate

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.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Lit candles, flowers and signs are seen in front of the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, Poland on May 31, 2020. Aleksander Kalka / NurPhoto / Getty Images

As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.

Read More Show Less
Sockeye salmon are seen swimming at a fish farm. Natalie Fobes / Getty Images

By Peter Beech

Using waste food to farm insects as fish food and high-tech real-time water quality monitoring: innovations that could help change global aquaculture, were showcased at the World Economic Forum's Virtual Ocean Dialogues 2020.

Read More Show Less
Shanika Reaux walks through the devastated Lower Ninth Ward on May 10, 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana, after her home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Mario Tama / Getty Images

The big three broadcast channels failed to cover the disproportionate impacts of extreme weather on low-income communities or communities of color during their primetime coverage of seven hurricanes and one tropical storm over three years, a Media Matters for America analysis revealed.

Read More Show Less
Several drugmakers and research institutions are working on vaccines, antivirals and other treatments to help people infected with COVID-19. krisanapong detraphiphat / Moment / Getty Images

Researchers at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly announced yesterday that it will start a trial on a new drug designed specifically for COVID-19, a milestone in the race to stop the infectious disease, according to STAT News.

Read More Show Less
The Sumatran rhino is one of 515 endangered species of land animals on the brink of extinction. Mark Carwardine / Photolibrary / Getty Images

The sixth mass extinction is here, and it's speeding up.

Read More Show Less
People are having a hard time trying to understand what information is reliable and what information they can trust. Aekkarak Thongjiew / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Cathy Cassata

With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.

They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Workers clean up a crude oil leak from a pipeline in Minnesota in 2002. JOEY MCLEISTER / Star Tribune via Getty Images

The Trump administration has finalized a rule making it harder for states and tribal communities to block pipelines and other infrastructure projects that threaten waterways.

Read More Show Less