The Arctic, the area north of the Arctic Circle (66° 33’N), never garnered much attention, except perhaps for a few periods in the past where the general public would admiringly follow the feats of heroic explorers such as Alfred Wegener, Roald Amundsen or Nils Ekholm. But there's a shift taking place in the way this huge and barren part of the planet is perceived. More and more scientists and members of the public are taking an interest in what is happening up north and the reason for this is Global Warming.
As early as 1938 people like Guy Callendar, one of the great figures in the history of climate science, suggested that an increase of CO2 might be acting "as a promoter to start a series of imminent changes in the northern ice conditions." Early Global Circulation Models, imperfect as they were and still are, also indicated that an increase in heat accumulated at the equator due to greenhouse gases would inevitably be transported to the Poles, leading to such things as Arctic amplification. Signs that this is happening are increasingly being witnessed in the Arctic.
One of the main indicators is the state of the sea ice in the Arctic regions that waxes and wanes along with the seasons. The sea ice melts during the summer months and in winter open ocean water quickly refreezes again. But not all of the sea ice disappears during the summer melt. An area of thick ice that has accumulated over several years (known as multi-year ice), comprising several millions of square kilometres, remains at the end of the melt season in September. However, as predicted, the total has been declining over the past few decades. In fact, the decline seems to be accelerating and it is no longer a question if, but when the Arctic will see its first ice-free summer.
So why is this important? First of all, an ice-free Arctic ocean has consequences for regional weather and the global climate as a whole. As NASA states: because of its light appearance, sea ice reflects much of the sun's radiation back into space whereas dark ocean water absorbs more of the sun's energy. As sea ice melts, more exposed ocean water changes the Earth's albedo, or fraction of energy reflected away from the planet. "Feedbacks in the system are starting to take hold," said NSIDC's lead scientist Ted Scambos back in 2005.
Furthermore, despite the ever-increasing evidence that the Earth's atmosphere is warming, that it is mainly caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases and that this potentially could have serious consequences for the world's ecosystems, economies and societies at large, there is still a large amount of controversy, mainly conjured up by contrarians, that undermines the public's perception of the problem of Global Warming and thus delays meaningful and positive action that is needed to mitigate and adapt to the consequences of an atmosphere and oceans being charged with a large amount of extra energy. The - up till now - spectacular story of the Arctic sea ice melt might change this and move the debate forward towards solutions. There's plenty to debate on that subject as it is.
I've been closely following the Arctic sea ice ever since the drastic drop of 2007 when the summer melt beat the 2005 record by 1.9 million square km, a staggering 22%. In 2008 and 2009 Arctic sea ice extent recovered 1 million square km. I have to admit that as an alarmist it's a bit opportunistic to be starting this blog at this period in time, with the 2010 Arctic melt season looking to go low if weather conditions resemble those of 2007, but for years I've been missing a central place where the situation in the Arctic can be discussed. I always had to glean information and explanation from little corners of the comment sections of blog articles, so let's see if the Arctic deserves its own blog.
My plan is to collect news stories and interesting data concerning the sea ice and the Arctic in general. I hope it will attract a sufficient amount of followers to correct my mistakes and fill the (considerable) gaps in my knowledge. So for now: Welcome to the Arctic sea ice blog!