Environment/Nature

It’s 2030 – do you know where your Arctic ice cap is?

The Arctic Sea is losing summer sea ice. This statement alone is hardly newsworthy. But today, the Guardian reported that the amount of ice in the Arctic this summer has fallen to a record low, opening the Northwest Passage around the northern coast of Canada to shipping without an icebreaker for the first time since records have been kept (1972). All in all, the Arctic has lost a third of its total sea ice in the last 30 years (since measurements have been made) and is already down to 57% of the average sea ice in the period of 1979 to 2002, and the ice hasn’t finished melting this year.

If this rapid loss continues, the Arctic will be entirely clear of summer ice by 2030, instead of the 2050 to 2100 as estimated by the IPCC models. Of course, this year could be anomalous – there are always unusually cold or hot years that are only really important if they represent a trend. Unfortunately, as this press release from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado points out, the IPCC models all produce significantly more yearly ice than the actual observed trends.

The Arctic is warming up – this is a fact of the data. As it does so, it will result in more heating because open water absorbs much more solar radiation than ice does, producing a feedback that will increase global heating more than anticipated. Add to this the fact that Greenland’s glaciers and the Ross Ice Shelf are melting faster than the IPCC models anticipate (the actual observed melting since 2001 has tracked the uppermost bound of the model, not the average of all the different models, indicating that the IPCC sea level rise models are overly conservative) and decarbonizing our carbon economy becomes vitally important. Not because melting sea ice raises the ocean level (it doesn’t), but because both effects are happening at or beyond the IPCC modeled limits. This means that the consensus-based IPCC global heating models are overly conservative and that at least some effects of global heating are likely to be significantly worse than the IPCC estimates.

9 replies »

  1. A long time ago, Raven Maps had a map that showed the US after ocean-levels had rose.

    Florida no longer existed and Atlanta was a beach front.

    I wish I could find that map again, because this was long before the terms “climate change” and “global warming” had been invented.

  2. Less sea ice means more polar heating in general, so that’s a bad thing. But the models predict certain things based on the sea ice going away in the summer, including storms tracking further north resulting in reduced winter precipitation from British Columbia down to the Gulf of California, some of it dramatically. See the link below for starters:

    http://currents.ucsc.edu/03-04/04-19/climate.html

    And this EPA link describes some of the other likely impacts, both to the climate and to people:

    http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/effects/polarregions.html

    So no, probably no earthquakes, but less precipitation in the West, storms moving further north, warmer local temperatures possibly leading to more Greenland ice melt (a secondary effect), and warming permafrost leading to even more CO2 and methane being released into the air and driving yet more heating.

    (OTOH, there’s evidence that the weight of water caused by the weather patterns moving the oceans around kicks some Alaskan volcanoes to erupt more in the winter than in the summer. If so, then yes, I suppose that we could very indirectly say that global heating and melting sea ice might impact seismic activity somehow. Here’s that link: http://discovermagazine.com/2003/feb/cover)

  3. None of this sounds good, Brian. But, of course, what we’ll get is “the issue needs more study.”

    Maybe once Charlotte and Raleigh are beach cities maybe someone will decide it matters….

    Thanks, Brian. Forewarned is (or should be) fore armed…

  4. Raleigh? I live in Raleigh!

    So other than Al Gore and the village people in India who are recognizing him as the best example of someone caring about the enviornment, what’s the real game plan? I mean to avert disaster? Or should I just put a ‘beach front property for sale sign’ on my front lawn next to my pink flamingoes?

  5. As an astronomy geek, the thing that worries me about the heat these last couple of years is that we’re currently at the solar minimum for sunspot activity in the solar cycle. It’s an 11-year cycle (22, if you count the switch in polarity) of ebbing and flowing of sunspots. While sunspots are cooler spots on the sun’s surface, they actually cause an increase in radiation released, warming up the Earth a bit more. I realize that rising CO2 levels and global heating are gradual phenomena and that a lot of factors can affect global temperature from year to year, but the fact that we’re seeing this much heat during this ebb in the cycle makes me think life could really suck in 5-7 years.

  6. 6. thenewg – The plan is tricky, because it’ll take a wholesale retooling of transportation and energy generation globally, and that’s a really big deal. See the “Decarbonizing the Carbon Economy” link in the main post above for a strategic approach to this – I plan to follow up with a number of tactical suggestions but real life has prevented that recently. Check out this post here at S&R to get another idea of how big a project this really will be.

    Another place to look is the IPCC Working Group 3 report on mitigation. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I’m afraid, so I don’t know what the IPCC suggests. Again, though, given that the IPCC recommendations are consensus documents, they’ll be conservative and may be too conservative to be really effective. Until I’ve had a chance to read them, I can’t say for sure.

    7. fikshun – Good point. Most deniers say that longer-term solar cycles are greater than the local cycle right now and that the longer-term cycles should reverse the heating “any day now.” I think that the science very well supports the idea that it’ll keep getting hotter, but that the next solar irradiance maximum will make those few years just THAT MUCH hotter. Ain’t that just grand?

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