By David L. Brown
Global warming deniers have been chortling this summer about the supposed return of the Arctic ice, claiming a reversal of the huge loss of ice that occurred last year. Some are even gloating about a “new ice age.”
Well, it seems they were a bit too quick to jump the shark on this issue. According to the latest reports from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, CO, the rate of melting of the Arctic ice cap accelerated during the first part of August, opening the Northwest Passage as occurred last year, and predicting that this season still may see as much loss of surface ice as last year’s record.
Here is a graph from the Center’s web site that tracks the amount of ice loss this year against last year and previous averages:
Considering that last year’s loss of ice was unprecedented, the downward angle of this year’s trend is certainly no evidence of a reversal of the ice melt, least of all a signal of a new ice age.
According to a news report on the web site of the British newspaper The Guardian, the accelerated meltdown resulted from storms that brought windy conditions to the Arctic. Much of the remaining ice was relatively thin “new” ice formed just last winter, and thus fragile and easily broken up. Said the article posted nine days ago:
As a result, scientists say that the disappearance of sea ice at the North Pole could exceed last year’s record loss. More than a million square kilometres melted over the summer of 2007 as global warming tightened its grip on the Arctic. But such destruction could now be matched, or even topped, this year.
‘It is a neck-and-neck race between 2007 and this year over the issue of ice loss,’ said Mark Serreze, of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado. ‘We thought Arctic ice cover might recover after last year’s unprecedented melting – and indeed the picture didn’t look too bad last month. Cover was significantly below normal, but at least it was up on last year.
As we have discussed here for more than two years, the ongoing meltdown of the Arctic ice cap is an ominous sign of global warming, and one that may have extremely serious consequences. The loss of summer ice and snow means that heat from the Sun will be absorbed in open sea water instead of being reflected back into space. That can be expected to create a growing feedback effect as the Arctic Ocean becomes warmer, thawing permafrost on nearby landforms and dramatically changing weather patterns as well as the Arctic ecology.
Just three years ago experts were saying that it would take 100 years for the Arctic ice to melt. Now, according to the Guardian story, improved climate models paint quite a different picture. Here’s an excerpt:
The most important of these computer studies of ice cover was carried out a few months ago by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Using US navy supercomputers, his team produced a forecast which indicated that by 2013 there will be no ice in the Arctic – other than a few outcrops on islands near Greenland and Canada – between mid-July and mid-September.
‘It does not really matter whether 2007 or 2008 is the worst year on record for Arctic ice,’ Maslowski said. ‘The crucial point is that ice is clearly not building up enough over winter to restore cover and that when you combine current estimates of ice thickness with the extent of the ice cap, you get a very clear indication that the Arctic is going to be ice-free in summer in five years. And when that happens, there will be consequences.’
This point was backed by Serreze. ‘The trouble is that sea ice is now disappearing from the Arctic faster than our ability to develop new computer models and to understand what is happening there. We always knew it would be the first region on Earth to feel the impact of climate change, but not at anything like this speed. What is happening now indicates that global warming is occurring far earlier than any of us expected.’
We will keep an eye on this developing threat to our planet, but in the meantime pay no attention to the crowing and posturing from the climate deniers. There is no new ice age in the cards for Planet Earth. Global warming is real, and all the wishes and claims to the contrary will not make it go away.