Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Friday, August 31, 2012

Arctic Sea Ice Breaks Record Low: Just a Number?

“Arctic sea ice cover melted to its lowest extent in the satellite record yesterday, breaking the previous record low observed in 2007,” according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center. “Sea ice extent fell to 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) on August 26, 2012.”

4.10 million square kilometers. How significant might that be?

Well, consider that less than two weeks ago, I reported that Arctic ice was headed for a record low. “In fact, we’re at 5.09 million square km as I write this,” I wrote.

5.09 million square kilometers eleven days ago; 4.10 million square kilometers today. That’s like melting an area the size of South Carolina – EVERY SINGLE DAY. They tell us that there are 2-3 weeks of melting season remaining, so we will surely blow away all previous records by a large margin, before seasonal cold returns.

Today's record-low ice extent, right; ice cover 11 days ago, left.
"By itself it's just a number, and occasionally records are going to get set," NSIDC research scientist Walt Meier said about the new record. "But in the context of what's happened in the last several years and throughout the satellite record, it's an indication that the Arctic sea ice cover is fundamentally changing."

He’s not exaggerating. Including this year, the six lowest ice extents in the satellite record (since 1979) have occurred in the last six years.  The remaining sea ice is now thinner than ever as well, making it an easy target for more melting next year.  And when it melts, it replaces nearly endless expanses of bright reflective white ice with dark, sun-absorbing sea water, further warming the earth’s climate.

Not just a record low: a record rate of loss
But with all we have to worry about, why should Christians – or any people of goodwill – care about ice?

The Psalms tell us “The earth is the Lord’s,” not our own. In Genesis, we find that God has given mankind the responsibility of stewardship, to “work and keep” the garden:  all that God has made – people, plants and animals. The Gospels warn us that God’s fearsome justice awaits those who – although appointed stewards and tenants – attempt to seize for themselves that which properly belongs to the Creator. And in St. Paul’s letters, we find that God’s redeemed children should be exactly what the groaning creation is longing for – agents of renewal and redemption for all things that belong to the Lord we love.

All that dark blue open water used to be reflective white ice
But we cannot bless the creatures of the earth – including the seven billion humans among them – if we fundamentally disrupt their homes and habitats. Surely the record-breaking droughts, floods, wildfires and soaring global food prices of the last several years have shown us that. And in the images that accompany this writing, let’s not ignore that massive block of terrestrial ice on Greenland. As it melts along with the sea ice, its water – enough to raise sea levels by 24 feet – will be coming soon to coastal habitats on which so many of God’s creatures depend for their survival, including us.

Maybe it's time to take creation care off the back burner? For starters, why not take a look at our own carbon footprint, and make changes to reduce our own harm?

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

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