A "new epoch of sea-ice melt"

Feature story - 18 September, 2009
The minimum area of summer Arctic sea-ice extent was reported this week to have plummeted to the third-lowest level in recorded history. This is Earth's way of saying that we're reaching the limits of what the planet can sustain.

Polar Bears on an ice shelf. Mother and cub.

The Arctic sea-ice reached its yearly minimum low on September 12th, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The lowest ever extent was recorded in 2007, and the second lowest in 2008. While these are signs that the greenhouse effect is real and requires urgent action, some people are still in denial - see the message on the NSIDC's twitter feed below.

These minimum sea-ice extents are more than records -- they are a call for attention to world leaders about the devastation that is happening all over the world due to climate change. We really need to reduce carbon emissions immediately.

Earth is losing its "climate control"

What happens in the great North goes way beyond the polar circle. When the sea-ice melts, it triggers several feedback loops. The first is greater heat absorption -- without the white sea-ice to reflect the sun, more heat is asorbed in the ocean, making it warm faster.


The second feedback loop is the disappearance of old, thicker sea-ice. The ice that melted this year will be replaced during the winter by new ice, less thick, which melts more easily the next summer. Simply put, the more ice melts, the less control we have.

New epoch of sea ice melt

The Arctic Sunrise is currently in the Fram Strait, in the Arctic region, and approaching the ice edge. On board is world-class sea-ice expert Dr. Peter Wadhams.

"We're entering a new epoch of sea-ice melt in the Arctic Ocean due to climate change," said Dr. Peter Wadhams. "In five years' time most of the sea-ice could be gone in summer, with just an 'Alamo of ice' remaining north of Ellesmere Island. In 20 years' time, that will also be gone, leaving the Arctic Ocean completely ice-free in summer. It's clear we can't rely on current models of prediction for sea-ice melt, as they have been constantly outpaced since the 1980s."

World leaders: Act now!

Clearly, the time for action is now, not just in five years, when it will be too late to keep feedback effects under control.

What's needed is a 40 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 on the part of developed countries. They also need to invest US$ 140 billion per year to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change, stop deforestation and switch to a low carbon economy.

To do anything less is to ignore the warnings we're seeing in the Arctic and elsewhere that tell us that the climate is in serious peril.

That's why we want world leaders to show their commitment to stop the devastating effects of climate change now,and attend the Copenhagen climate conference at the end ofthe year.

Take action

Patience for global leaders is wearing thin as Arctic sea ice. Ask them to get a move on and go to Copenhagen and sign a fair, ambitious, and binding deal.

Support us

We rely on individual donations to support our work. Consider making a donation to help us.