Sunday, September 7, 2008

Artic Meltdown?

Sarah Palin isn't the only hot history-making news out of the Arctic this month. While it hasn't made the front page or appeared in any convention speeches, the other news may have much more impact on our future. For the first time since the beginning of the last ice age 125,000 years ago, it is now possible to circumnavigate the Artic ice cap. Both the northwest and northeast passages are open. August is normally the month when the melting slows and cooling begins to re-freeze the ice pack. This August a record 950,000 square miles of melting occurred or just over 30,000 square miles per day (Indiana is 36,000 square miles in area). Some scientists suggest this rate of melting is evidence of a tipping point where the melting accelerates due to a feedback loop where open water absorbs much more heat than does reflective ice.

While most climate models predicted that global warming would make the Artic ice-free late in this century or early in the next, it now appears that ice-free state could be reached as early as the time of the next presidential election in 2012 according to some cryospheric experts.

Is this just an anomoly caused by a perfect storm of normal weather cycles? Mark Serreze, sea ice expert at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Denver, gives an excellent summary of the science behind this historic melt in a presentation last year (click on C24A) at the American Geophysical Union annual conference. Although a year old, the presentation accurately predicts what is occurring this month along with some implications for our near future. This richly illustrated and chilling presentation is worth pulling yourself away from the hot air of the political blogs for 45 minutes.

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