“Like the canary in the coal mine, the climate changes already evident in the Arctic are a call to action.”
Every September 16 is an important milestone for the Arctic. That’s the date when the Arctic ice traditionally reaches it’s minimum for the season, as the northern hemisphere’s summer comes to an end. Just a few weeks ago I reported how the Arctic sea ice had reached its minimum amount ever since satellite imagery began keeping track more than thirty years ago—and with September 16 still weeks away.
Following on the heels of that I also reported how three men managed to sail through the Northwest Passage, something that’s not been easy to achieve without the diminishing amounts of ice we’ve been witnessing year after year.
So with such record-breaking conditions up north, you might expect the records would be broken even further once September 16 was reached. And you’d be right. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) scientists announced this week that the milestone came and as expected, Arctic sea ice minimum was the lowest ever recorded.
The previous all-time low was recorded in 2007. This year, the ice level fell to 3.41 million square kilometres, about 775,00 square kilometres lower than the previous record, a decline of 18 percent. This extra ice loss amounts to an area larger than the state of Texas. Almost half of the ice—49 percent to be precise—is gone compared with the average minimum levels recorded from 1979 to 2000.
We don’t have satellite photos prior to 1979, but there are other sources to help indicate how long ago our planet last saw such a minimum level of Arctic ice. Ships’ records help tell us how the last century has been, and don’t forget that our planet experienced cooler than normal weather for over 400 years before that, what is commonly referred to as the “little ice Age.” Researchers believe it’s likely at least 1,500 years since our Arctic ice was at the present minimum levels.
And don’t forget that it’s not only the area of sea ice that’s declining: the sea ice is getting thinner as well. According to NASA scientist Joe Comiso, “The core of the ice cap is the perennial ice, which normally survived the summer because it was so thick. But because it’s been thinning year after year, it has now become vulnerable to melt.”
Some dire predictions state that we may completely lose our Arctic ice by September 16 a mere decade from now. It’s certainly concerning to see such drastic changes in such a short time span. Since the Arctic is one of the most sensitive regions of the planet susceptible to global warming and climate change, it truly is the canary in the coal mine for our world.
Now if only we’ll heed the warning and begin to do something about it.