A new NOAA report reveals we've lost 95% of the Arctic's oldest, thickest sea ice. Here's what that looks like.
The vast Arctic Ocean has long been covered in ice, which is great because all that white prevents the sun from heating up the water too much.
But the ice is in trouble, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card, "new emerging threats are taking form and highlighting the level of uncertainty in the breadth of environmental change that is to come."While the ice cap shrinks in the summer to its "minimum," it grows back again in the winter, but a certain amount of old ice remains. Older ice is thicker and thus tougher and better able to endure warming temperatures than the younger, thinner ice. It also acts as a foundation of sorts, helping to keep new ice in place and to also help the area stay cool even in the warmer summer months.
But now, the annual report card reveals that 95 percent of the Arctic’s oldest and thickest floating sea ice has been lost in the last three decades.
The report notes:
"In 1985, the oldest ice comprised 16% of the ice pack, whereas in March of 2018 old ice only constituted 0.9% of the ice pack. Therefore, the oldest ice extent declined from 2.54 million km2 in March 1985 to 0.13 million km2 in March 2018, representing a 95% reduction."
As Chris Mooney writes in The Washington Post, "The finding suggests that the sea at the top of the world has already morphed into a new and very different state, with major implications not only for creatures such as walruses and polar bears but, in the long term, perhaps for the pace of global warming itself."
“The younger the ice, the thinner the ice, the easier it is to go away,” said Don Perovich, a scientist at Dartmouth who is listed as the lead author on the Sea Ice section of the report.
And if it goes away, we can expect global warming to ramp up the pace as the dark, unprotected water starts soaking up all that solar heat. It would be a really great thing if everyone could get together on this little "save the world" project and start taking serious climate action. As noted on the NOAA site climate.gov, the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and the four warmest years on record have all occurred since 2014. Is it any wonder the ice is melting?
Meanwhile, Donald Trump adviser Wells Griffith, just said this to the audience at the U.N. climate change summit in Katowice, Poland: “We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.” Uhm, is anyone else seeing the problem in this kind of thinking.
Anyway, the NASA video below shows satellite-based passive microwave images of the sea ice changes from 1979 on. "We're seeing the Beaufort Sea go from a nursery to a graveyard for older ice," explains cryospheric scientist Dr. Walt Meier of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the video. Keep your eye on the white ice, which is the old ice. At about 1:16, the melt is shown with the corresponding years and you can really get a sense of the loss over time.
See the whole Arctic Report Card here.