A crime against nature: The case of the disappearing ice

polar bear on ice
According to NOAA, the Arctic lost 1 million square kilometers of ice between winter 2014 and winter 2015.

By Share America

The Arctic lost 1 million square kilometers of ice between winter 2014 and winter 2015.

Arctic sea ice covered about 14.5 million square kilometers at its peak in the winter of 2015. You might think that makes for one gargantuan skating rink, but during most winters Arctic sea ice covers even more territory — 15.6 million square kilometers on average.

The keepers of global satellite observations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported those findings in early May.

“We had less ice this winter in the Arctic than any other winter during the satellite era,” said NOAA’s Jeff Key.

Satellite observations began in 1979, and international scientists widely share their Earth observation data. Looking at the long-term trends, Key and other NOAA scientists have made another new finding.

“We now know that not only has the Arctic ice pack been thinning, but we know exactly where and to what magnitude and what degree over the last 30-plus years,” Key said at a Washington briefing.

This is not just interesting trivia about a remote place. Arctic conditions can determine weather events in lower latitudes, Key said, only one of many far-reaching effects. A warmer Arctic climate also can change operating conditions for enterprises such as shipping, fishing, agriculture, and oil and mineral extraction. Negative impacts on wildlife are well documented. And that’s just the beginning.

“Changes in snow cover impact water supply, which is very important to many especially arid countries,” Key said. “The big [impact] is that melting ice sheets cause an increase in sea level or a sea level rise, and that’ll impact any coastal city anywhere in the world.”

These results come only months after NOAA scientists issued the Arctic Report Card for 2014, which produced evidence that Arctic air temperatures are rising at more than twice the rate of global air temperatures.

Verified, peer-reviewed scientific findings of this kind form the basis of the U.S. Climate Action Plan announced in 2013. The strategy calls for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and moving to a clean-energy economy.