This is my fourth annual Arctic ice update. Once in a while, we pass a new milestone in our race to destroy our environment. The year 2012 was such a time, when the Arctic sea ice reached a record low extent. This year, things are getting a little crazy, probably due to the influence of a strong El Niño, which is aggravating the downward trend we have been seeing for decades.
Sea ice extent has been running well below average, and is less than the record levels of 2012. Extent is only part of the story, however. The following images show estimated ice thickness in the Arctic regions, from which you can determine the total volume of Arctic ice left.
The first image is for June 25, 2016; the second is one year earlier. Notice in particular how the areas of thicker ice, the red, orange, and yellow, have decreased. We still have the two biggest ice-melt months ahead, and if the weather pattern doesn’t change drastically, we stand to see a record low in both extent and thickness. The El Niño is showing signs of weakening, which will change the weather patterns in a helpful direction, but not likely in time for this melt season.
Why does this matter to those of us who don’t live in the Arctic? Arctic sea ice acts to keep the region cooler, because ice is a good reflector of solar energy. As the world warms and the Arctic loses ice cover, the area retains more energy from the Sun and becomes warmer still. The Arctic is still colder than temperate regions, but not as much colder. There is less temperature difference between regions, so there is less energy to drive the Jet Stream. As the Jet Stream slows down, it tends to meander more, and that has the effect of bringing temperate air farther north, which further exacerbates the ice problem. It also brings cold Arctic air farther south, which confuses US residents. “If the Earth is warming, why is it cold in June?”
Even worse than the confusion is the fact that the changing Jet Stream has serious effects on weather patterns far away from the Arctic. Yes, the weather is always changing, but it is changing now in particular ways that can be attributed to the decrease of Arctic sea ice. And that is beginning to cause problems for farmers and fire fighters.
Arctic Ice Update needs you!
Don’t give up, give a damn and do something about it. One thing we can do is vote for representatives who accept the validity of good science, and vote out politicians who are funded by oil companies. It is too late to reverse the trend and prevent the disappearance of the Arctic ice cover. We will undoubtedly experience continuing climate disasters, but what we can do is significant. We are a resilient species, and we can adapt. We can wean ourselves off fossil fuels, if we have the nerve to face up to corporate bullies.