North Pole Melts, Forms Lake at Top of the World

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Photo: North Pole Environmental Observatory.

If the image above doesn't scare you about the effects of global warming, you must have ice water in your veins. That's the North Pole — or at least that's where the camera started its mission. It's now a lake. (*Since this story first published, we've learned that the camera that took the photo above started at the North Pole, but since it's on an ice floe, it moved. So, this photo was technically taken 363 miles south of the North Pole.)

The photo is part of a time lapse recently released by the North Pole Environmental Observatory, a research group funded by the National Science Foundation that has been monitoring the state of Arctic sea ice since 2000. The shallow lake began forming on July 13 after an especially warm month, which saw temperatures rise 1-3 degrees Celsius over the average, reports The Atlantic.

The North Pole has not completely melted away; there is still a layer of ice between the lake and the Arctic Ocean underneath. But that layer is thinning, and the newly formed lake is continuing to deepen. It's a dramatic reminder that climate change is real and that the Arctic is being radically transformed. In fact, the lake — we might as well call it Lake North Pole — is now an annual occurrence. A pool of meltwater has formed at the North Pole every year now since 2002. The mythical home of Santa Claus has been officially flooded out.

Arctic ice has been retreating dramatically in recent years, opening up the fabled Northwest Passage, which can now be successfully navigated in the summer months. While that marks a boon for shipping traffic and oil and gas exploration, it's bad news for the environment. Animals that rely on sea ice, such as the polar bear, are left with a shrinking habitat. The ice cap is also important for the regulation of the global climate. It influences ocean currents, insulates the air, and acts as a giant reflector for sunlight that hits the Earth. As the cap melts, global warming is projected to accelerate.

You can view the full time lapse taken by the research team at the North Pole, which shows the formation of the lake, below.

Update: Why the North Pole 'lake' vanished