By David L. Brown
A couple of years ago I privately predicted that the Arctic polar ice cap would melt a lot quicker than scientists were willing to predict. I noted the trend and projected ice loss using common sense, and by factoring in the effect of high-albedo ice and snow being replaced by low-albedo open sea water. Albedo is a measure of the amount of Sunlight reflected from the surface of celestial objects, including the Earth. It is estimated that open water absorbs 7 or 8 times more heat from the Sun than snow and ice, which reflect much of the solar energy back into space.
At that time in October, 2005, scientists were predicting the ice would not disappear for a hundred years. I boldly predicted a complete meltdown of the Arctic ice within as little as ten years, which would place it in about 2015. It wasn’t long before events began to move in the direction I had predicted.
Here are some excerpts from what I wrote in a posting made about one year ago on September 16, 2006 titled “Meltdown of Arctic Ice Continues to Accelerate”:
We have written before about the observed shrinking of the Arctic ice cap, and Star Phoenix Base has contended that the rate of disappearance is accelerating and threatens to become a runaway meltdown. Our reasoning for this pessimistic position is based on several factors. First, temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than in temperate or tropical regions. In Alaska, for example, average temperatures already have risen by as much as seven degrees F. In the far north of Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, permafrost is melting and thus lending irony to its name, since it is no longer “perma.” That melting is releasing greenhouse gases long sequestered in the frozen bogs, adding impetus to the warming trend.
Now there is evidence that our speculations were spot on, as the British say. According to the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, the wintertime extent of Arctic ice has decreased by six percent in each of the last two years. That compares with a previously observed rate of decrease of only 1.5 percent per decade, or a mere 0.15 percent per year. It is based on those previous rates that scientists as recently as one year ago were predicting that the Arctic ice cap would not completely disappear for about 100 years.
I analyzed the situation in October, 2005 and made the prediction in private correspondence that it would happen much faster, perhaps in as little as ten years. I later published some of this analysis on this weblog. Some earlier postings on this subject can be found in this site’s archives, particularly the articles “Bad News for Polar Bears — The Big Thaw,” and “Catastrophic Loss of Arctic Ice in Store.” You can find these and other articles by using the keyword search function on the sidebar.
In other postings I have noted the fact that the Arctic ice cover should not be viewed only from the standpoint of its area. It is a relatively thin layer of ice floating in the Arctic Ocean, and that layer of ice has grown significantly thinner. In other words, the total volume of ice per unit of area is also declining, perhaps rapidly so. Add that to the albedo effect and you have the makings of a runaway meltdown.
Now the latest news from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, as reported today by CNN.com (read it here) in an article titled “Arctic Sea Ice Cover at Record Low”:
Ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, long held to be an early warning of a changing climate, has shattered the all-time low record this summer…It is possible that Arctic sea ice could decline even further this year before the onset of winter.
Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at NSIDC, termed the decline “astounding.”
“It’s almost an exclamation point on the pronounced ice loss we’ve seen in the past 30 years,” he said.
Most researchers had anticipated that the complete disappearance of the Arctic ice pack during summer months would happen after the year 2070, he said, but now, “losing summer sea ice cover by 2030 is not unreasonable.”
Here is a map from the NSIDC web site showing the extent of Arctic ice as of three days ago. The purple line indicates the “normal” or median historic limits and the white area is the actual ice coverage. As can be seen, at this time the Northwest Passage is still wide open according to the NSIDC site, which you can view here.
My projections from a year ago were based on an accelerating loss of ice, and the new data appears to confirm my analysis. (Disclaimer: I am not a climate scientist but am well-read on the subject, seem to be imbued with some common sense, and am not constrained by political correctness or fear of job security.)