September 21, 2012
Why Should I Care Where The Arctic Sea Ice Went?
The United States' National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC for short) has just issued a press release about the amount of ice in the Arctic at the moment. You may be wondering why on Earth that is relevant to you, but please bear with me as I endeavour to explain, with the help of a few videos. Here's the first one which shows summer 2012 in Sidmouth, a seaside town down here on the not so sunny south coast of Devon:
What do you suppose is the cause of the recent soggy summers and icy winters in South West England? According to the NSIDC:
Arctic sea ice cover likely melted to its minimum extent for the year on September 16. Sea ice extent fell to 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles), now the lowest summer minimum extent in the satellite record.
Arctic sea ice cover grows each winter as the sun sets for several months, and shrinks each summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year, the Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in September. This year’s minimum follows a record-breaking summer of low sea ice extents in the Arctic. Sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) on August 26, breaking the lowest extent on record set on September 18, 2007 of 4.17 million square kilometers (1.61 million square miles). On September 4, it fell below 4.00 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles), another first in the 33-year satellite record.
Here's a video from the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA for short) that allows you to visualise the melting of all that ice:
Why did those extra 290 thousand square miles of ice melt in the Arctic this summer? According to NSIDC scientist Walt Meier:
The strong late season decline is indicative of how thin the ice cover is. Ice has to be quite thin to continue melting away as the sun goes down and fall approaches.
Here's a video from the University of Hamburg that allows you to visualise recent changes in Arctic sea ice thickness:
Ice thickness is part of the picture, but what else might be relevant? According to the NSIDC once more:
During the first week of October, NSIDC will issue a full analysis of the possible causes behind this year's ice conditions, including a discussion of how the summer's low ice extent may affect the winter ice growth season.
Whilst we wait for that full analysis, here's one suggestion from the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA for short):
A large Arctic cyclone broke up the thinning sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean in early August 2012. The storm likely contributed to the ice cap's shrinking to the smallest recorded extent in the past three decades.
According to Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center:
Climate models have predicted a retreat of the Arctic sea ice, but the actual retreat has proven to be much more rapid than the predictions, but the long-term retreat is quite apparent.
Echoing that sentiment, NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve said:
Recent climate models suggest that ice-free conditions may happen before 2050, though the observed rate of decline remains faster than many of the models are able to capture.
You may well still be wondering at this juncture:
What's melting ice in the Arctic got to do with floods in Sidmouth?
Here's a video from the United Kingdom's Meteorological Office in Exeter about jet streams, which goes some way towards answering that question for you:
Her Majesty's Government have recently been considering all this evidence and lots more. Their Environmental Audit Committee have just published a report entitled "Protecting the Arctic", in which they say (amongst many other things) that:
Climatic change in the Arctic is affecting the UK's weather. Professor Wadhams told us that the open water left by the retreating ice in summers could lead to "radically changed" weather patterns around the northern hemisphere.
In conclusion, here's a thought for you. If the likes of NASA, NOAA, NSIDC, the Met Office and H.M. Government's Environmental Audit Committee think there's a problem, why do the likes of Barack Obama and David Cameron still give very good impressions of people who couldn't care less about the issue?
P.S. The Met Office in Exeter has just issued a severe weather warning for Sunday September 23rd 2012 here in South West England (amongst other places)
Filed under Disasters by