Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Warnings from the Top of the World

Let’s face it: We don’t care all that much about sea ice.

We care about our kid’s job, or our GPA in college. We care about our favorite sports team, or who’s winning the election. We care about the noisy neighbors, or the worsening traffic on our commute.

But sea ice? Hardly on the radar screen, right?

Today's ice v. normal (orange line)
And that’s a pity, because scientists at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) tell us that it’s more important to our future – and our kids’ futures – than most things we worry about.

Bright white ice used to cover most of the Arctic, from Siberia to Greenland, even in midsummer.  But it’s been shrinking, year by year, as the earth warms. And now the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) tells us that this year will be a new record for ice shrinkage by a wide margin. The last record was set in 2007, and this year’s ice melt is way ahead of that.

We might have thought that maybe this would a good thing. After all, mariners have been trying for ages to open the Northwest Passage, and avoid those long voyages through warmer southern waters.  Just last week, a Chinese ship docked in Iceland, after taking the shortcut along the northern coast of Russia.

"To our astonishment ... most part of the Northern Sea Route is open," expedition leader Huigen Yang told Reuters upon arrival. The Chinese had expected much more ice, and now plan to return by a more direct route closer to the North Pole.

But there is a problem in all this, according to the NAS. All that former bright white ice was really reflective, sending about 60% of the energy from the sun’s rays back out into space. By contrast, ocean water is really dark, and it reflects only about 10% of the sun’s energy that hits it. The remaining 90% gets absorbed, and warms the oceans. The more the Earth warms, the Polar Regions become more energy-absorbent, generating even more warmth.  That’s why small changes in the Earth’s systems sometimes turn into big changes for the Earth.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that this would happen back in 2007. But many people predicted they’d be way off.  In fact, they were. But like so many scientific predictions regarding the damage to the Earth from climate change, they were wrong in the wrong way. Actual sea ice melting is far worse than the IPCC predicted. The IPCC warned that Arctic sea ice cover could shrink to about 7.0 million square km by this time. In fact, we’re at 5.09 million square km as I write this, and falling.

The U.N. IPCC was wrong: It's much worse
And today, there’s more deep-blue absorbent water in the Arctic than there was on average in the period 1979-2000 by an area roughly the size of India. For the Earth’s climate, it’s as though we’ve taken an area called home by over one billion people, and repainted the entire surface from reflective white to limousine-black -- to bake in the sun all day long.

Whatever the world’s nations decide to do in the year ahead, that India-sized black limo will again be baking in the Arctic sun next summer, only it will be bigger, and hotter.  That’s why we can’t afford to get around to listening to the climate scientists after our immediate concerns – the recession, the pennant race, the election, or whatever – are resolved.

Breaking records: more open water than ever
For your own sake, and for your kids, the time to demand climate action is now.  Our leaders will only do what we demand that they do. Why not take a moment, and make your voice heard

Thanks for reading, and for speaking out. And may God bless you.

J. Elwood

No comments:

Post a Comment