As news of islands being submerged by rising sea levels, its no comfort that we have a new island on Earth, as of today — the North Pole. For the first time in 125,000 years, the North Pole’s polar ice cap has become a complete island, as satellite images taken by NASA in the United States have documented that the famed Northwest and Northeast passages are now in fact open, allowing water to stretch around the entire Arctic circle, isolating North Pole life from the rest of the continents. In fact, since the start of the last ice age, both passages have been frozen solid - again, they’ve been frozen for 125,000 years. Then again, is this surprising considering our carbon dioxide emissions at 387 ppm are higher than they’ve been for more than 650,000 years?
Measurements of ice and climate scientists are showing melting much faster and larger than anticipated. NSIDC gives daily updates on the status of North Pole Ice, and as of August 27, this year witnessed the second largest ice cap melt in one single year since records here have been collected. If the fact that the ice cap is an island for the first time in human history, the perspectives of some of the leading scientists is equally scary. Professor Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the US government, has expressed his thoughts that the melting ice cap has entered a “death spiral”, in terms of feedback loops that cannot be slowed down.
Last year the extent of sea ice in the Arctic reached a record low that could be surpassed in the next few weeks, with some scientists warning that the ice cap could soon vanish altogether during summer. Dr Serreze said on hearing the news, “The passages are open. It is an historic event.” Last month he said, during an interview with the Guardian:
‘The trouble is that sea ice is now disappearing from the Arctic faster than our ability to develop new computer models and to understand what is happening there. We always knew it would be the first region on Earth to feel the impact of climate change, but not at anything like this speed. What is happening now indicates that global warming is occurring far earlier than any of us expected.’
While this is terrifying news, it is not surprising considering the rate at which so many changes we would have never anticipated. The accelerating melting of the arctic could accelerate loss of permafrost and release of increased methane gases. Decreased ice cover on the North Pole also clearly means a lower albedo of the polar area, meaning that more heat will be absorbed by the water which the ice would have reflected. This warming trend will then potentially accelerate even further the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
More and more scientists are seeing that the Greenland ice sheet is melting much faster than anticipated, which could lead to a much higher sea level rise than the IPCC has calculated. A team of researchers in Geoscience have said that rising sea levels up to between one and two feet over the coming century are possible based on the rate of glacial melt. For planning purposes, we should see the IPCC projections as conservative,” Carlson said. “We think this is a very low estimate of what the Greenland ice sheet will contribute to sea level.”
Additionally, this news falling during International Polar Year and during Lewis Gordon Pugh’s kayak expedition to the North Pole to raise awareness about the melting ice, the beauty of the arctic, and the need for immediate action. “I want to bring home to world leaders, on this expedition, the reality of what is now happening here in the Arctic,” said the 38-year-old environmentalist in his blog, Polar Defense Project.
As we start to realize what we are fighting for — for nature’s cycles that allowed Man to evolve, for the cycles including polar ice caps and our coastlines — we will need to bring global carbon dioxide concentrations down to a safe level globally; a level that our current international negotiations are not considering and a level that will genuinely protect our future… To 350 ppm.