Fears about the Arctic melting away during northern summers are proving to be far from unfounded, with the latest reports rolling in from Alaska and Greenland showing disturbing trends. New shipping lanes are opening up through what were once icy seas near Alaska, and glaciers that have so far withstood much of what the environment has thrown at them in Greenland, are showing signs of breaking… literally.
Researchers who have been monitoring daily satellite images of Greenland’s glaciers from Ohio State University have discovered break-ups at two of the largest glaciers within the last month.
What they have found is a massive 29 square kilometer piece from the Petermann Glacier, at the top of Greenland that has broken away between July 10th and July 24th. The second loss occurred at the Northern branch of the Jakobshavn glacier, which broke up in the past several weeks and lost a 10 square kilometer piece.
What is most distressing for the Jakobshavn glacier is the fact that it has retreated inland to its furthest point in recorded history, a period stretching back 150 years. Researchers also believe that the glacier has in fact never retreated to where it is now, since 4,000 to 6,000 years ago.
Glaciers in Greenland have indeed lost massive chunks over the past decade, but not at the rate at which, for example, Alaska and the Arctic Circle itself have decreased. The Coast Guard based in Alaska has already opened up two temporary stations, in anticipation of the day when the Arctic Circle’s sea-ice is all but gone.
“We have to prepare for the world coming to the Arctic,” said Rear Adm. Gene Brooks, commander of the Coast Guard’s Alaska district.
There is strong debate over just when the Arctic will be ice-free during summers. Some scientists caution it could be centuries, while conservatively estimating that it could be as short as 20 years. Others speculate a date much sooner than that.
Either way, Rear Admiral Brooke may be right, the world may very well be arriving at the Arctic a lot sooner than we would like (granted, anytime is too soon).
Image Credit Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University