Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Will You Take A North Pole Voyage In 2020?

A new report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at Colorado State University suggests that Arctic sea ice is melting much faster than computer models have projected, leaving open the possibility of an ice free North Pole (in late summer) by as early as 2020.

Only a few months ago, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast--using computer models--that the Arctic Ocean could be ice free as early as 2050. The new report, citing more up to date satellite measurements, says the computers are off by about 30 years.

This is a big deal, folks. The polar ice cap over the Arctic Ocean reflects an enormous amount of the sun's energy away from earth, whereas dark seas would absorb that sunlight, adding to the effects of global warming.

Melting the polar ice cap will not, in itself, raise sea levels to any significant degree, since the ice is already floating in the water. (Same as ice melting in a glass of water.)

The danger, however, is that melting of the Arctic Ocean will further raise temperatures up north, accelerating the already alarming decline of the Greenland Ice Cap, which WILL raise sea levels. Indeed, some experts believe that as the Greenland ice melts, the glacial ice cap begins to float on a lake of melt water, raising the possibility of large portions sliding off into the sea all at once.

Unfortunately, if the new report is correct, it's probably already too late to prevent the Arctic Ocean from melting. That doesn't mean we shouldn't start taking action on global warming--but it does mean that time is already running out rapidly, and therefore that we need to take more aggressive action to prevent longer term catastrophes.

1 comment:

David said...

For all the talk on the need for global action, politicians are more worried about votes and staying in power than trying to save the planet, despite the massive amounts of scientific research on the subject. Indeed, it seems as though the north pole will melt completely regardless of any action we might start taking tomorrow, leaving the next generation to expect to live (literally) in a stifling greenhouse once the polar ice has melted. But as long as that opens up the north-west passage, and governments can make money from new shipping trade, who cares, right?