What happens in the Arctic, affects Las Vegas

There is no denying it. Information coming from the Arctic on abnormal temperatures and its sea ice cover is truly disturbing. For the third day, November 19th of 2016, Arctic sea ice extent is actually dropping when it should be growing in progression towards the Northern Hemisphere winter.

Data visualisation from the Unites States National Snow and Ice Data Center.

In fact, sea ice extent is also plummeting around Antarctica. Thus, the total global sea ice extent is at a record low. Although these two phenomena should be studied separately, nothing like it has ever happened during human civilisation, and most likely not in hundreds of thousands of years. This is the largest geophysical change the Earth is going through in a long time.

Sea surface temperature anomalies in the Greenland, Barents and Kara seas (Danish Meteorological Institute).

There are both noise and internal variability in temperature and ice measurements on short time intervals. Climate science is interested in longer trends which verify beyond the chaotic variability. For Arctic sea ice, the downward trend is clearly seen in the satellite record of the September sea ice extent minimum. When the uncovered open ocean absorbs the sun’s rays during the Arctic summer, no longer reflecting it into space, it heats up. When the ocean heats up, it makes the growth of new ice during the fall more difficult.

Why does Arctic sea ice matter? How does this affect my daily life? Its going to melt anyways so why worry?

The Arctic is a global cooling system. Without ice on land, on the sea and without snow on the ground, sun’s energy is not reflected back into space. This is especially true during spring when the Arctic wakes up from winter and sees the sun again.

Some might think climate change as a linear, slow moving phenomenon. Ice and water have a few states they like to be in and their phase shifts are fast and some times irreversible.

40,000 years ago large areas of the Northern Hemisphere were under permanent ice sheets.

For overall warming of the planet, these phase shifts are important objects of study since they can and will cause rapid and discontinuous warming. The image of a glacial period tells a striking story about how immense some changes in Earth’s climate can be.

It did not take much of a difference in natural parameters of the planet to tip it into an ice age.

With human-caused climate change, the planet is being taken to a new state, where ice can hardly persist.

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