There’s More To Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice Than Meets The Eye

  • Published on October 20th, 2016

If I say that arctic sea ice is melting, I might get a shrug or an “uh huh.” But if I can show people what that melting looks like, I might actually get some folks to pay attention. Sea ice, of course, is directly tied to ocean levels. When there is more ice at the poles, sea levels fall. When their is less ice, they rise. For years, we have heard reports about the polar ice caps shrinking, but most of us cannot grasp the implications of that information when it is presented in two dimensions.

It was not until 2012 that the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite was able to measure the actual thickness of the ice. Its findings were disturbing, to say the least. It found that the polar sea ice was less than half as thick as it had been in 1979.

Climate activist Greg Laden writes in his blog this month that “Surface ice will always reform and melt in the Arctic, but long term there used to be a lot of thick ice that never melted during the summer. This long term thick ice would survive the summer melt, and allow new winter time surface ice to form more easily each year. As that ice disappears from various coastal areas in the high Arctic, new winter surface ice takes longer to get going.”

There are other factors at work. Ice reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere, which limits solar warming of the oceans. Less ice means sea water heats up as it absorbs energy from the sun. Warmer water contributes to ice melt. Everything is connected to everything else, as they say.

In other words, less ice today means even less ice tomorrow. But lots of people are visual learners. They need to see it in order to understand it. Joe Romm, one of the founders of Thnk Progress asked artist, musician, and climate activist Andy Lee Robinson to design some graphics that would make it easier for people to grasp what is happening at the poles.

Andy began working on the project three years ago, but his latest effort is a visual tour de force that took him many months and thousands of hours of computer time on 8 computers to complete. Best of all, it has a piano soundtrack that Robinson composed and recorded himself.

Watching Robinson’s inspired presentation makes it possible for all of us to understand what is happening here on our home planet. Elon Musk says there will be up to a million earthlings living on Mars in a few decades, but some of us would prefer to remain right here at home and enjoy the bounty of Mother Earth for a while longer. We aren’t that excited about a world in which Pocatello, Idaho and Des Moines, Iowa are ocean front playgrounds.

Let’s not permit things to get to the point where polar bears are clinging to the last piece of sea ice, as shown in this iconic photo by Carlo Lombardo Ehrlich for the World Wildlife Foundation. We all need to become informed, get involved and take action!

sea ice is disappearing

Source: Think Progress


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About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.