Arctic Sea Ice Now at Lowest Level Ever Recorded

Public Domain Images/Public Domain

Last week, experts predicted that retreating Arctic sea ice in would reach a record low this summer. They were right; there is now less ice in the Arctic at this very moment than there has been in the history of making such measurements.

The New York Times has the depressing news:

Satellites tracking the extent of the sea ice found over the weekend that it covered about 1.58 million square miles, or less than 30 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, scientists said. That is only slightly below the previous record low, set in 2007, but with weeks still to go in the summer melting season, it is clear that the record will be beaten by a wide margin.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center, a government-sponsored research agency in Boulder, Colo., announced the findings on Monday in collaboration with NASA. The agency bases its numbers on a slightly conservative five-day moving average of sea ice extent. The amount of sea ice in summer has declined more than 40 percent since satellite tracking began in the late 1970s, a trend that most scientists believe is primarily a consequence of human activity.

Here's what that looks like:

NSIDC/Public Domain

Lower and lower we go, inching ever closer to the now-inevitable ice free summer. Yes, we're pretty firmly into "now-inevitable" territory. Neven Acropolis explains that after "the IPCC released its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, it was generally thought that the Arctic could become ice-free somewhere near the end of this century. But changes in the Arctic have progressed at such speed that most experts now think 2030 might see an ice-free Arctic for the first time. Some say it could even happen this decade."

So who cares if the Arctic melts away every summer? Everyone should. For one thing, it will mean less ice reflecting sunlight back into space, and thus more warming. For another, it means more drought here in the U.S. How does that work? Just ask NASA. They've got a great explainer on melting sea ice that should be required viewing for land-dwelling humanfolk everywhere.

And the new milestone comes with a rust-colored lining: it will open up brand new regions for oil exploration and shipping routes. These, of course, will enable us to spew greenhouse gas emissions even more abundantly than we are now: brand new polluting enterprises perpetrated amongst the melted detritus of the Arctic. It's sweet, black irony—we're faced with some of the clearest evidence yet that our fossil fuel love-fest is transforming the face of the planet, and we're doubling down on oil.

Tags: Arctic | Global Climate Change

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