Arctic

Thu, 2014-04-24 11:16Farron Cousins
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Report: Arctic Oil Spill Readiness Virtually Nonexistent

Sea ice in the Arctic Circle is currently melting at a pace far greater than scientists had originally projected.  While this is bad news for the planet — sea ice helps reflect the sun’s rays and keeps the arctic cooler — it has created new paths for the oil industry to exploit the resources hidden deep under the icy water.

Drilling activities in the Arctic have currently stalled, but this stall isn’t going to last forever.  The Arctic is estimated to hold about 13% of the world’s oil reserves, and at least one-third of the total oil within U.S. territory.  This means that the oil companies don’t need to worry with drilling on foreign lands or about the prospect of not hitting a massive payday.  They will return.

That’s the problem – they will return.  According to a new report by the National Research Council, that is a very scary scenario for both the climate and the environment.  The report says that increased drilling and the placement of oil pipelines make oil spills a question of “when,” not “if.”

The report lays out two very specific themes with regards to Arctic drilling. The first is that there is no discernable oil spill response plan, and the second is that the history of oil companies tells us with great certainty that there will be a massive spill as a result of the increased activity in the region.

Tue, 2012-08-07 14:17Richard Littlemore
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Arctic Ice Decline Much Worse Than Expected

As the extent of Arctic sea ice declines to levels unrecorded since satellite monitoring began, the National Snow and Ice Data Center has released a new analysis that shows the situation to be worse by far than even the most pessimistic models predicted.

It's a perverse endorsement of one of the most popular denier memes - that you can't rely on climate models because the world is too complicated to be reduced to a compilation of computer data. But, thanks to the expertise (and conservative nature) of the scientists behind this work, the models have shown the direction with perfect accuracy: it's the terrifying extent that they have failed to anticipate.

In addition to the catastrophic conditions currently prevailing in the Arctic, the NSIDC has also drawn attention to the dramatic melting occurring this year in Greenland. And all this is supported and reinforced by the Polar Science Center's ongoing calculation of Arctic ice volume.

The trends are all down. Or as James Hansen put it in the Washington Post last week, “Climate change is here - and it's worse than we thought.”

Sat, 2012-05-26 12:00Evan Leeson
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Shrinking Arctic Ice May Cause Mercury Poisoning

Arctic ice cap shrinkage over 32 years

NASA has shown repeatedly that the Actic icecap is melting, and melting faster than climate models predict. This new visualization is stark and should be of obvious concern, simply because of the impact on sea levels. Now there is a potentially new threat. The process of shrinkage may cause a chemical reaction that could poison the Arctic ecosystem with mercury.

The disappearance of old, thick ice in the Arctic means an increase in bromine released into the atmosphere. The new, thinner ice has more salt and this is where the bromine comes from. As it melts it interacts with relatively benign gaseous mercury causing it to solidify and fall in a toxic form to the ground and into ocean water. The old old ice has less salt.

Image source: NASA

it is currently popular in denier circles to tout the April 2012 ice sheet extension as a sign of slowing of Arctic ice melt. This grasping at straws is not supported by the overall data, which shows Acrtic ice disappearance increasing. The April extent is mainly thinner, new ice that will easily melt, potentially causing the “bromine explosiion” described by NASA. The old, thicker icecap is shrinking more rapidly as time passes, and with it, the benign melting of salt-depleted ice.

Mon, 2011-09-19 08:12Chris Mooney
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New Record or Not, the Arctic Sea Ice Alarm Bells Keep Ringing

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Last week, the National Snow and Ice Data Center came out with the estimate that we did not quite ​set a record for the minimum extent of Arctic sea this year. Rather, 2011 seems to have come in a slight second to 2007.

However, another scientific group does claim that we've hit a new record. Who's right?

I don't know, but I don't think either bit of news is the most important thing to focus on. For as Skeptical Science points out, we also just learned that total sea ice volume reached a new low in 2010 (wonky hide-the-punchline paper here). And that is, to my mind, a much bigger deal than what total sea ice extent is doing on a year by year basis.

Remember, extent is a measure of area covered, and volume is a measure of total ice mass. (More clarification here.)

There is a strong case that volume matters more, because extent can be misleading. Why?

Wed, 2011-07-27 09:33Chris Mooney
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The Annual Arctic Sea Ice Drama Begins

In my last post, I discussed how the increasing risk of devastating heat waves—unlike the worsening of tornadoes—is definitely a phenomenon we can link to global warming. And now, as summer plods on, it’s time to begin paying attention to another one: the continuing decline of Arctic sea ice.

The extent of ice covering the Arctic has been declining for decades, and reached a record low in September of 2007, nearly 40 percent below its long term average. This wasn’t solely the product of global warming—weather patterns also have a lot to do with ice extent, and they contributed to the 2007 record. 

Nevertheless, much like the worsening of heat waves, Arctic ice decline is one of the most obvious  impacts of global warming—and this year, it’s possible that Arctic ice extent might reach a minimum even lower than it did in 2007.

Thu, 2010-09-23 16:55Richard Littlemore
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Arctic Ice: There's bad news and worse news

Update: NSIDC pinpoints Sept. 19 as date of least Arctic ice extent in 2010

Arctic Sea Ice Extent, which the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Co., announced had reached its annual minimum on Sept. 10, has now slipped even further, to a point that could be below the 2008 minimum. That would make this the second lowest summer ice cover in recorded history.

“It’s awfully close (to the 2008 low),” NSIDC research scientist Dr. Walt Meier said on Wednesday (Sept. 22, 2010). “And even though the air temperatures are getting colder, the ocean has a lot of heat in it and can continue to melt ice.”

Meier acknowledged that the NSIDC jumped the gun in announcing the apparent annual minimum. The ice extent had been increasing for three consecutive days and the scientists assumed the season had turned. But much of the ice is broken up and thin, conditions that mean “it doesn’t take a lot to get late season melting,” Meier said.

Ice watchers may be more concerned, however, by the inset Polar Science Center graph of ice volume, which shows that the total amount of ice (as differentiated from the extent of the Arctic ice cover) has dropped off a cliff.

Tue, 2010-08-24 14:35Richard Littlemore
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Fool Me Once: Thorough - and devastating - explanations

Those in search of clear, accessible explanations that debunk the latest denier talking points will be delighted to discover Wellesley College postdoc Alden Griffith and his website, Fool Me Once.

The site’s subtitle is perfect and perfectly accurate - “What climate change deniers fear most: thorough explanations” - and Griffith provides two such explanations, so far. They’re in the form of PowerPoint-style presentations with a voice-over and they categorically destroy the notion that (in Christopher Monckton’s mendacious phrase) “Arctic sea ice is just fine” or that “global warming has stopped.” I only wish that I had wallet-sized copies of Griffith’s graphs so I could flash them at annoying relatives who parrot these lines as if they have some validity.

Mon, 2009-04-06 11:23Richard Littlemore
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Arctic Starts Annual Melt, Balancing on Thin Ice

Arctic ice has maxed out for the year and is starting its slow melt into summer in much worse shape than normal, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

If you look only at the extent of Arctic sea ice, things are not as bad as they have been in recent years. Ice cover is five per cent higher this year than in the record low 2006, even if it is four per cent lower than the 1979 to 2000 average.

But ice thickness is another story, and that seems to be all bad news.

Tue, 2009-03-03 16:48Kevin Grandia
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The Arctic Sea Ice is Melting - no matter how bad George Will doesn't want it to

There remains a lot of messaging and spin running rampant online over Washington Post colmunist George Will’s misguided and baseless claims that sea ice coverage is similar to 1979.

DeSmog writer Mitchell Anderson has been covering this baffling story for us and doing a great job, but I wanted to provide a few of the sources that have done a particularly good job at highlighting just how much sea ice we have lost since the 1970’s when we first started recording such things. 

These source easily and compellingly explain away George Will’s incorrect claim that sea ice coverage is the same today as it was in 1979.


1. You can watch the extent of Arctic Ice melt decreasing over time. Here’s a great satellite image time series video done by NASA that shows the year-to-year melting of sea ice in the Arctic. I don’t know how anyone could argue that sea ice in the Arctic is the same as it was in 1979 after watching this video:

Fri, 2009-01-09 17:30Mitchell Anderson
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Climate Change Cancelled! (Whew!)

Good News! Climate change is all a big mistake! This remarkable finding was revealed by Michael Asher in Daily Tech – a publication more focused on iPhones than atmospheric science.

Asher’s piece Sea Ice Ends Year at Same Level as 1979 confidently states that “Thanks to a rapid rebound in recent months, global sea ice levels now equal those seen 29 years ago…”

Strange. That’s not what scientists are saying. Just last month NASA released a chilling report showing that between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion tons of ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted at an accelerating rate since 2003 – enough to fill Chesapeake Bay 21 times.

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