On September 16, 2012 the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) published the startling news that the Arctic summer sea ice was at its lowest level since researchers began recording it in 1979. The summer sea ice was recorded at only 1.32 million square miles, demonstrating a near 20 percent decrease than the last record minimum of 1.61 million square miles on September 18 2007.
A scientist at NSIDC reflects on the data: "By itself it’s just a number, and occasionally records are going to get set. 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."
The implications of such changes are vast. The accelerated warming of the Arctic increases the chance of weather extremes such as floods, heat waves and cold spells in the Northern Hemisphere.
The melting ice could lead to a rapid increase in sea level in the years to come. As reported by CNN: “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that the global average sea level would rise between seven and twenty three inches by the end of this century.”
Environmentalist groups cite the shrinking ice caps as an indicator of global warming caused by human-made greenhouse gas emissions, a claim which has historically encountered backlash and cynicism.
With the erratic changes of weather pattern and the warming of the atmosphere, such rise in sea levels could have dangerous repercussions as unusual storms produce intense and life-threatening tidal surges. In the case of hybrid superstorms such as Hurricane Sandy, high sea levels can lead to fatal flooding.
The damage inflicted by the super storm—a rising death toll of at least fifty people—is evidence of the possibility for catastrophic outcomes of rising sea levels and temperatures. The scope of the destruction, taking into account its devastating losses, should work to convince public consciousness of the brutal reality of climate change.
Evidence suggests that vulnerable island states may need to evacuate their populations within a decade. Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, warns that the Pacific Islands are faced with the prospect of flooding and salt-water intrusion.
Mann also notes that the models predicting climate change may be too forgiving. “We know that there is methane trapped [in the permafrost] and as it escapes into the atmosphere, it accelerates the warming even further.”
Shayne Wolf, the climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute claims that “the polar meltdown shows we’re teetering on the brink of climate-change catastrophe.” He summarizes: “We can’t wait any longer to cut carbon pollution.”
Solutions to climate change and alternative energy technologies need to come into play, especially because fossil fuel dependence is aiding causing the instability of the atmosphere. With Hurricane Sandy’s damage to the East Coast and the resulting billions of dollars in damage.
Responding to the satellite-records of the ice caps and the NSIC release of figures, Kumi Naidoo, the Greenpeace International Executive Director said:
“Today’s announcement represents a defining moment in human history. In just over 30 years we have altered the way our planet looks from space, and soon the North Pole may be completely ice free in summer.”
Naidoo states: “We must work together to protect the Arctic from the effects of climate change and unchecked corporate greed. This is now the defining environmental battle of our era.”