This year has seen the Arctic sea ice sheet melt further, and faster, than has ever been seen before in human history – a whopping 760,000 square kilometers less than ever recorded (which is 3.29 million square kilometers below the average minimum). Though images of polar bears and walrus stranded on melting ice-cubes pop up, and we morn the ever-increasing loss of their habitat; what happens at the poles will not stay at the poles. The affect of the Arctic sea ice diminishing will not just remain in the far north, we can (and should) expect more and more extreme weather as a result of this year’s ice loss.
As the Arctic Ocean becomes more and more exposed with the loss of its ice-white blanket in the summer, more and more water will be evaporated into the atmosphere, creating increased humidity and stormy weather as it’s precipitated out. The ice cover in the north also reflects sunlight and heat, cooling the upper atmosphere and cooling the planet’s overall climate. In addition, as permafrost areas warm and melt, methane, a greenhouse gas usually trapped under a layer of ice, is released. As more methane is released into the atmosphere, the atmosphere will get warmer – creating a feedback loop that will warm the Arctic even faster than before.
Warmer, wetter and stormier summers are likely in our future, but conversely winters may be colder than past years. The open Arctic Ocean could cause heat advection to be faster, changing the annual high and low pressures and weakening the input of warm air from the south through the winter months. More water in the atmosphere and a cooler winter climate could equal more snow and ice storms in the Northern Hemisphere, creating drastic extremes in annual temperatures.
Though there is no way to predict the exact weather patterns that will happen on a year by year basis, but we do know the trend is not looking good. Hotter and colder, wetter and drier — what was once classed as “extreme” will become the norm everywhere around the globe. With more than a touch of sadness, it is with almost certainty I will see an open Arctic Ocean within my lifetime.
It’s more than time for us all to start paying attention to what is happening in the Polar Oceans.
“Ice-Free Arctic Sea May be Years, Not Decades, Away” Richard Kerr, 28th Sept 2012, Science News