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Recent dramatic events in the Arctic and Antarctica are supporting scientists who suggest that the pace of climate change is accelerating. The Arctic ice cap is thinner than ever, with ice older than two years comprising less than 10 percent of the ice cover in measurements from the end of February. The amount of thick sea ice hit a record wintertime low of 378,000 square miles, which is down by 43 percent over the last year. As old ice is the thickest, and slowest-to-melt, it plays a vital role in regulating temperature on Earth.

“That thick ice really traps ocean heat; it keeps the planet in its current state of balance,” says Waleed Abdalati, director of the Center for the Study of Earth from Space at the University of Colorado and NASA’s former chief ice scientist. “When we start to diminish that, the state of balance is likely to change, tip one way or another.”

While 2008 was a comparatively cool year worldwide, and 2009 and 2010 predicted to be much warmer, the concern is that arctic sea ice will retreat dramatically — exceeding record losses that occurred over the last two years. Sea ice is important because it reflects sunlight back into space, and helps turn down the Earth’s thermostat. As the ice melts, the dark ocean waters will absorb unprecedented amounts of energy, which will accelerate the thawing of the permafrost, potentially releasing billions of tons of methane ― a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2 — into the atmosphere. Warming begets warming.

In similar news, the map of Antarctica will need to be redrawn, as the thin bridge holding back the Wilkins ice shelf from the sea snapped earlier this week. The Connecticut-sized ice shelf is now expected to disintegrate, turning the Charcot Island into a true island. Although this single event won’t affect sea level, it demonstrates that Antarctica is melting three or four generations ahead of schedule. It also threatens to speed the flow of continental glaciers to the ocean, and that will affect sea level.


* Climate change deniers like to think that we’re heading for another ice age despite all evidence to the contrary. Over the last two years, Arctic amplification has dramatically increased ice melt in the Arctic, but every winter — just as you’d expect — the ice refreezes. And so they run a story every month headlining the dramatic increases in Arctic sea ice over the winter.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. What matters in the Arctic isn’t the extent of sea ice, but the volume. And the graph above — from researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center explains the problem perfectly.

One Response to “Someone Forgot to tell the Arctic and Antarctica About the Coming Ice Age*”

  1. Great thanks to One Blue Marble for putting up this article.

    Earlier this morning I posted a comment on the Washington Post website about their editorial, “Arctic Ice is Melting” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/10/AR2009041003071.html. Without mentioning his name, WA PO has rejected the erroneous conclusions of one of its own columnists and taken a bold step toward informing the public of the enormous danger we’re in.

    Though not bold enough for some of us, however. Why is it that so many intelligent, informed writers and policy makers have such difficulty following ideas to their logical conclusions? The Arctic sea ice is melting away, and it’s not going to stop melting until we cool the planet down. What works in your kitchen when you drop an ice cube in a bowl of water works for the Polar Ice Cap, too. You have to change the ambient temperature to stop it melting. Things are worse in the Arctic, though, because there, the ambient temperature is being forced up rapidly by powerful positive feedback loops. You wouldn’t want to try this at home.

    Here’s some of the comment I made to the Washington Post. I hope others will sign on and comment as well:

    “The UK Met Office Hadley Centre has fed their data to Google Earth, and there you can see that by just next year at this time the Polar North will have heated dramatically. See our article at http://westcoastclimateequity.org/?p=2767 for instructions on how to view this interactive image…..

    “The hard truth is that in order to get our planet working properly again, we will have to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide down to a safe level, which climate realists estimate is below 350 parts per million. This will result in a global temperature of what it was in the early 1950′s, before the Arctic sea ice began to melt.

    “The sooner we get started with our momentous task, the better. We must do more than just stop emitting greenhouse gases. In addition, we have to find ways to remove excess carbon from our atmosphere. Strong and immediate action by world leaders will also help mitigate the impact of global warming on the vast numbers of people who will be the most likely to suffer from its devastating effects.”