Arctic thaw has chilling consequences

Research on sea ice shows an Arctic in trouble—and that’s a problem for all of us

Photo: Mario Hoppmann / NASA
A polar bear tests the strength of thin sea ice. Polar bears need sea ice in order to hunt and are therefore among the most threatened by its loss.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Anyone who doubts the human impact on global warming and climate change should view the sea ice coverage of the Arctic as seen from above in the many images acquired by NASA satellites, such as the two replicated here. The sea ice is declining at an increasing rate that is a clear sign of the quickening thawing of the Arctic.

On Tuesday, April 25, in Oslo, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), released a report on a six-year study by 90 scientists of Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA 2017). The AMAP is a working group of the Arctic Council, the intergovernmental forum for the Arctic Region, made up of representatives of the U.S.A., Canada, Russia, and the five Nordic countries: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. Shortly thereafter, the essentials of the study were incorporated in a Declaration by the 10th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council held on May 11 in Fairbanks, which was republished by participating entities, including the U.S. Department of State (Further reading).

One of the key outcomes of the SWIPA 2017 study was the realization that it’s “increasingly clear that the Arctic as we know it is being replaced by a warmer, wetter, and more variable environment. This transformation has profound implications for people, resources, and ecosystems worldwide.”

Photo: National Snow & Ice Data Center / UC Boulder
Arctic sea ice extent in June 1979 and June 2016. The images show a striking difference in the amount of summer ice.

Other key SWIPA 2017 findings:
• The Arctic Ocean could be largely free of sea ice in summer as early as the late 2030s.

• The low-end projections of global sea level rise made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are underestimated.

• Changes in the Arctic may be affecting weather in mid-latitudes, even influencing the Southeast Asian monsoon.

• Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the global average.

• A recent economic analysis of the global costs of Arctic change estimated the cumulative cost at $7 trillion to $90 trillion over the period 2010-2100.

• The period 2011-2015 was the warmest ever since record keeping began in 1900.

Scientists in fields other than Arctic and climate research are also concerned with the effects of the Arctic thaw. For example, a study at the University of Washington’s polar science center in Seattle found that in their habitats across the Arctic, polar bears now must cope with shorter and shorter sea ice seasons, threatening their feeding and breeding (Further reading). In the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Norway, permafrost thaw threatens mountains (Further reading) and can trigger hazardous landslides. As observed in the SWIPA 2017 report, “Changes (like these) will continue through at least mid-century, due to warming already locked into the climate system.”

There’s an ancillary lesson to be learned from the plight of the Arctic. Opinion-based political fiat and naysaying cannot annul evidence-based scientific knowledge and provable fact. Global warming is chillingly real.

Further reading:
Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic, Summary for Policy-makers, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), Apr. 25, 2017, link: www.amap.no/documents/doc/Snow-Water-Ice-and-Permafrost.-Summary-for-Policy-makers/1532

Fairbanks Declaration, Report of the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, May 11, 2017, link: oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/1910; also published by the U.S. Department of State, link: www.state.gov/e/oes/rls/other/2017/270802.htm

All about sea ice, overview of research by and data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder, Feb. 1, 2016, link: nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/index.html

• “Sea-ice indicators of polar bear habitat” by H.L. Stern and K.L. Laidre, The Cryosphere, Vol. 10, Sept. 14, 2016, link: www.the-cryosphere.net/10/2027/2016/tc-10-2027-2016.pdf

• “Arctic climate: 2016 warmest year ever in Svalbard,” The Norwegian American, Feb. 24, 2017, link: www.norwegianamerican.com/research/arctic-climate-2016-warmest-year-ever-in-svalbard

• “Permafrost thaw threatens mountains,” The Norwegian American, Aug. 26, 2016, link: www.norwegianamerican.com/research/permafrost-thaw-threatens-mountains

This article originally appeared in the July 14, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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