Arctic Sea Ice: A Minimum Maximum

Earlier this month, NASA reported that the Arctic ice cap reach its annual maximum winter extent on Feb. 25th, 2015. A mere two months after the winter solstice, there’s enough sunlight to start reversing the trend, something that usually isn’t reached until a little later in the year. More significant than that however is that this year reached a maximum of 5.61 million square miles (14.54 million square kilometres). Why is that concerning? Because it’s the smallest maximum NASA has ever recorded from satellite data. Watch this video and see what you think.

Old Arctic Ice: Going, Going, Gone

“We need to save the Arctic not because of the polar bears, and not because it is the most beautiful place in the world, but because our very survival depends upon it.”
—Lewis Gordon Pugh

A strong piece of evidence that our planet is warming is that the large floating ice cube at the North Pole—the freely floating ice without any land underneath it—is slowly shrinking. It hasn’t been enough to convince diehard deniers, but there’s no doubt the amount of ice has been slowly shrinking in the 35 years since satellites have been able to accurately record the phenomenon.

One of the reasons skeptics are tough on the point is because each winter sea ice expands again until it reaches its peak in March. It shrinks each summer reaching its smallest amount every September. But here’s a new look at this issue: how much ice survives year to year. It has never completely disappeared any summer since we started looking at the issue (although experts are sure that’s just a matter of time). So some ice survives for years. So how much “old” ice is sticking around compared to previous years.

This animation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration makes clear just how much ice is surviving. And in recent years it’s alarmingly little. It’s best to watch this one-minute video twice: once to focus on the oldest ice in white (more than nine years old) and then again simply watching how much ice in any colour including dark blue is present.

On the first viewing, you’ll notice that the oldest ice really starts to shrink after 2000, becoming nothing but a narrow band by 2008. It turns out that ice more than four years old made up 26 percent in the 1980s, but only 10 percent last year.

Your second viewing shows the extent of all ice, and although that’s shrinking, it’s less dramatic than the amount of old ice that’s shrinking.

There’s only one thing that can do that: heat. Not a different distribution of it like the deniers would like you to think. Simply more of it, because our planet is warming.

The Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
—Winston Churchill

Experts have been predicting that the Arctic sea ice might disappear during the summer months within the next decade.

And that’s bad for so many reasons. First, it’s one of the worst proofs of global warming. But it will contribute to more climate change in the region in large part due to the loss of albedo—or reflectivity from the ice cap—so the Arctic Ocean will be able to absorb even more solar energy. This can in turn lead to more melting of the ice on Greenland, as well as melting of permafrost located near the Arctic Circle. Given the amount of carbon stored in permafrost in the form of methane (a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide), that can contribute to a real acceleration of greenhouse gas emissions, a significant positive feedback loop.

A lot of people tend to ignore this real threat our planet is facing. One way to appreciate it more is to see exactly how much ice the North Pole has lost in the last generation. This thirty second video helps to put it into perspective.

I dare you to watch this and not care about its implications.

Arctic Sea Ice Actually Continues to Decline

“It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.”
Bill Watterson

Some people who are skeptics and deniers of global warming and climate change will use any means at their disposal to argue their point, no matter how misleading or how much they misunderstand the science.

Case in point: our beloved Arctic ice cap and how it’s been declining over the decades. It’s a strong piece of evidence for a warming planet because if the planet was in a steady state rather than a warming one, the ice would fluctuate but over time would generally hover around a mean. It’s a chaotic and dynamic process so there will always be ups and downs year to year; it’s the long-term trend that counts. (Just like it is with surface temperatures, but Arctic sea ice is actually less chaotic so it often hits home the point more effectively.)

Arctic sea ice rises and falls each year as we go through North American winters and summers. The ice is at its maximum around the last half of March and reaches its minimum in September. Both are important metrics to look at. In 2012, the minimum that year was the lowest ever recorded since satellite data became available back in 1978, but skeptics and deniers were silent. The following year, there was an increase and skeptics and deniers cried victory: “Global Warming is over, now it’s global cooling.” The scientists disagreed. It was still the sixth smallest ever recorded—in other words, the bottom quintile—and completely in keeping with the long-term trend.

But now we can look at this year’s maximum since that was reached a few weeks ago and see how it compares with the long-term trend. So where was it at? Continue reading

Evidence of Europe's Climate Change

For more than a decade, scientists have been predicting that the loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming will lead to a change in the paths storms take, and contribute to worsening droughts in some regions. So if global warming is really happening, do we see any evidence that these predictions are becoming reality?

In a word: yes. In fact, loss of Arctic sea ice appears to have caused a complete shift in the jet stream. The jet stream is a current of very fast-moving air about ten kilometres above the ground. In recent years it has become “wavier” in its contour with steeper troughs and higher peaks.

A new study published in IOP Science has shown how much precipitation patterns have changed in Europe. Do six straight years of wet summers that are well above average in Great Britain and northern Europe and six straight years of the lowest amount of Arctic sea ice ever recorded have any relationship with each other, or is it just an incredible coincidence? Continue reading