March 15, 2013

Crack. Is It Bad for Us? ~ Paul Beckwith

Photo: Sierra Club

The Arctic region of our planet acts as a climatic air conditioner, and the air conditioner is conking out.

We have a problem, Houston.

Over the last several weeks, massive cracks have appeared in the ice that connects the Beaufort Gyre region to Alaska. As a result of last summer’s record sea ice-loss, the winter ‘refreezing’ process went dismally and the surface area and thickness never recovered. The situation is frightening with the beginning of the 2013 melt season only a few weeks away.

Policymakers and governments around the world are still using outdated climate models and are therefore operating under faulty presumptions.

The best example of this is their maintaining that the Arctic will retain sea ice until sometime between 2040 and 2070, ignoring the devastating 2012 summer loss of sea ice (roughly 30 percent!). For the record, they’re wrong—completely wrong! Six to 30 months is a much more likely scenario. Maintaining this naïve assumption will not only go down in history as colossal climatology #fail, it’s dangerous as it lulls people into a false sense of security (and atmosphere of non-urgency). It facilitates non-action, plain and simple. And we need action now.

Hang on Folks

What does this mean for the planet? As the sea ice and snow cover declines, strange things start happening to jet streams. Very strange. They slow down, become much wavier and more unpredictable (like Frankenstorm Sandy taking a left instead of right), and are directly responsible for an increase in the frequency, size and severity of extreme weather events (floods, heat waves, droughts, etc.). Climate refugees, global disruption of agriculture, growingly-extreme weather events and phenomena… unless we act soon the future is certainly grim.

As is usual these days, the best and most accurate up-to-date information on the state of Arctic sea ice is obtained from climatology blogs and a wealth of online data sources (if you want to look for it, that is). Uncensored near-real-time data and images of sea ice thickness, concentration, motion, temperature and just about anything else you can measure can be found here and here.

For example, here’s the movie showing how the sea ice thickness has decreased over the past year.

The state of deterioration is clear (and shocking).

So back to those new Arctic icecap cracks developing… everything you need to know can be found here. Even better than the images and the article itself, in my opinion, are the comments from climatologists, scientists and a growing number of very informed amateurs from around the world. These folks are very knowledgeable about Artic sea ice; many of them have followed the disappearing Artic sea ice for years and are clearly a step ahead of most scientists in their field (at least those scientists not following the links above!). It’s these folks who first spotted the cracking and raced to archival satellite imagery (from 2012) to confirm their fears.

Turns out those cracks are appearing 51 days earlier than they did last year. That’s a staggering revelation and a game-changer (not a good one) as we approach the 2013 melt season.

As I wrote before: Hang on folks… the times they are a-changin’.

Previously published on Sierra Club, Canada.

Paul Beckwith is a PhD student with the laboratory for paleoclimatology and climatology, department of geography, University of Ottawa. He teaches second year climatology/meteorology as a part-time professor. His thesis topic is “Abrupt climate change in the past and present.” He holds an M.Sc. in laser physics and a B.Eng. in engineering physics and reached the rank of chess master in a previous life.

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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