It's a Record-Breaking Winter Alright ... For Lowest Ice Extent in the Arctic


Photo Credit: christine zenino via Flickr/CC BY

Yes, yes, it's snowy as hell in the US. It's pretty damn cold, too. And I'm not even seeing the worst of it here on the East Coast. The Midwest is getting the brunt of it. Though there's been thankfully little 'See! See! Snow-means-no-climate-change" yapping in the media thus far (that I've been subjected to at least), we still should turn our attention to the fact that there are indeed records being broken. Yes, at the moment that blizzards sweep our nation, it turns out a record of another kind has been broken: This year, the Arctic has registered the lowest January ice extent on the books. This chart shows the sad truth:


Image: NDIC

Here's Climate Progress:

the National Snow and Ice Data Center reports: "January 2011 had the lowest ice extent for the month since the beginning of satellite records."

Why? Because while it's been coolish in parts of the United States, it's been very mild in the Arctic, especially northern Canada: "Hudson Bay did not completely freeze up until mid-January, about a month later than normal according to Canadian Ice Service analyses. The Labrador Sea region is still largely free of ice, except in protected bays along the coast. Normally at this time of year, ice extends several hundred kilometers from the coast all the way to northern Nova Scotia."

So, while snowstorms sweep the US, Canada's weather has been exceedingly mild. In some places in northern Canada, temperatures have been a whopping 30 degrees Celsius warmer than the average (which is still pretty damn cold at 3 degrees below 0).

Once again, the point of all this is to take the long view -- Canada's warmer-than-average January alone is not proof of climate change, just as the colder-than-usual January in Chicago ain't proof it's a hoax. But record low Arctic ice extent -- combined with lower and lower extents over the last few years -- is a different piece of datum altogether. The NCIDC found that "Arctic sea-ice extent averaged just 5.23 million square miles (13.55 million square kilometers), the lowest January ice extent since satellite records began." This is demonstrative of a long-term trend.

Nonetheless, with scientific evidence supporting climate change continuing to pile higher yet, guess who's trying to make sure that the US doesn't do anything about it? Here's a release from the CDC: "The news comes in the same week that new House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) unveiled draft legislation to repeal Clean Air Act protections aimed at slowing the buildup of dangerous carbon dioxide pollution." Another senator is attempting a similar repeal -- both are aimed at preventing the EPA from following a Supreme Court mandate to regulate greenhouse gases as harmful pollution.

Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, says, "The evidence mounts daily that climate change is here now, yet some members of Congress are digging their heads deeper into the sands of denial, preferring to preserve polluters' profits over the future of our planet."

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