For years, climate scientists and Arctic researchers have been warning the public about the drastic melting of polar ice. But in 2016, the hottest year on record, the melting has gone a step further and could have catastrophic irreversible effects.
The controversy with the South Pole melt
We’ve long been told that Arctic ice caps in the north are melting. One of the proofs for global warming is in the drastic melting rates of northern sea ice. But conversely, Antarctic sea ice found near the South Pole has actually been increasing in recent years. In fact, Antarctic sea ice experienced its greatest growth between 2012 and 2014. Climate change deniers often point to this fact as proof that global warming is just a myth. After all, how can our earth be getting warmer if Antarctica is producing more ice than ever before?
Turns out, scientists have an explanation for the sea ice increase by the South Pole. Natural weather fluctuations and erratic weather patterns at the Earth’s poles easily explain the increasing sea ice. In fact, the erratic weather known to occur at the poles may even explain why the southern sea ice is now beginning to melt. While scientists are hopeful that this new melting trend at the South Pole can be blamed on erratic weather, they worry that it may be indicative of a trend already afflicting the sea ice in the north: a long term pattern of melting ice due to increased global warming and climate change.
While we’re no stranger to the news of melting ice near the North Pole, this year’s results do have cause for alarm. The North Pole is currently in their Polar Night period; in the months of October and November, most of the Arctic regions receives little to no sunlight, allowing the remaining ice to thicken and expand. However, despite the sunless sub-zero temperatures, this region that should be increasing in ice is still on the melt due to record breaking hot temperatures this year.
The effects of a North Pole melt
Because the Polar Night is not having its usual effect on the Arctic ice, we could see disastrous weather patterns in the years to come. Arctic climates affect the polar vortex which dictates the weather patterns for much of North America, Europe and Asia. These Arctic shifts can spill cold air into the above continents and create more frequent and intense winter storms. So when Arctic ice is unable to harden and grow, we suffer through harsh and dangerous winters.
Where does that leave the ice?
NASA researchers discovered a troubling trend last month that they hadn’t seen before. Typically, the Arctic region experiences a natural seasonal melt as temperatures rise in the summer. The ice then thickens and grows in the winter, during the Polar Night. However, this year NASA found that not only was seasonal ice melting but so was older ice. Ice that had been frozen for decades and that protected the northern ice cap was showing significant thinning. Researches were alarmed. If even the oldest ice in the Arctic was susceptible to melting, what does the future hold for Arctic ice and everything that is affected by it?
The National Snow and Ice Data Center measured the Arctic ice melt in May of this year to assess the rate of melting compared to previous years. Unfortunately, the results were not good. As of May 2016, the melting rate of Arctic ice was weeks ahead of where it had been in years previous. In fact, the amount of ice remaining was at a new record low. The numbers tallied in May revealed that this new record was more than 500,000 square kilometres less than the previous record low of 2004.
What can we do to stop the rapid melting?
The best way to do our part to decrease the rapid melting of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice is to get informed, demand action and make change. Get informed by following the regular updates released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center so you know exactly what is happening in the afflicted regions. Read up on the latest developments in climate change and share that news with your community of family and friends. Demand action by signing petitions and calling on local and global leaders to commit to meaningful climate action. Remember that you also vote with your wallet so make the choice to support companies that are committed to helping the environment. And make change in your own life by doing your part to reduce emissions and live a low-carbon lifestyle. Learn more about what practical changes you can make by reading our article on Overshoot Day and Ways to Go Green.