When looking down on the Arctic from space and you can see some beautiful arch-like structures sculpted out of sea-ice. Yet due to a rapidly warming planet the average duration of these arches is decreasing by about a week every year. They used to last for 250-200 days and now they last for 150-100 days.
By some estimates, ice melt in the Antarctic is expected to push global sea levels up by 22.8 inches (58cm) by the end of the century if climate change goes on unchecked. Paired with ice melt in the northern polar circle, sea levels could rise by a staggering five feet (1.5m) by the year 2100. And yet, scientists in the US fear projections could be off, thanks to weather fluctuations that can have a significant impact on melting ice. Understanding the full range or distribution of projections for a risk factor like sea level rise, especially the tail ends, is part of what makes Riskthinking.AI’s scenarios so valuable.
The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, and some scientists believe that thawing permafrost — ground frozen since the last Ice Age — is about to release enormous amounts of climate-warming emissions.
Images from satellites high above the Earth have helped a research team put together a stark visual chronicle of decades of glacier disintegration in Antarctica. Meanwhile, a separate international research team has taken the opposite perspective – studying the ice from its underbelly. Both teams are documenting the stress on two glaciers in West Antarctica that so far have helped check a massive stream of melting ice responsible for about 5 percent of Earth’s rising sea levels.
This year’s Arctic sea ice cover shrank to the second lowest extent since modern record-keeping began in the late 1970s. Warmer ocean temperatures eat away at the thicker multiyear ice, and also result in thinner ice to start the spring melt season. Melt early in the season results in more open water, which absorbs heat from the Sun and increases water temperatures.
Mass loss from 2007 to 2017 due to melt-water and crumbling ice aligned almost perfectly with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s (IPCC) most extreme forecasts, which see the two ice sheets adding up to 40 centimetres (nearly 16 inches) to global oceans by 2100, they reported in Nature Climate Change. Such an increase would have a devastating impact worldwide, increasing the destructive power of storm surges and exposing coastal regions home to hundreds of millions of people to repeated and severe flooding.
Arctic sea ice is itself an endangered species. Next month its extent will reach its annual minimum, which is poised to be among the lowest on record. The trend is clear: Summer ice covers half the area it did in the 1980s, and because it is thinner, its volume is down 75%. With the Arctic warming three times faster than the global average, most scientists grimly acknowledge the inevitability of ice-free summers, perhaps as soon as 2035. “It’s definitely a when, not an if,” says Alek Petty, a polar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.