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The arctic sea ice debate hits the press

It seems that over the last month people have finally begun to realize that global climate change has reached the point of no return. I am not trying to be a sensationalist here, but rather I want to instill a sense of the current state of science to everyone. Today the NY Times is running an excellent feature article on the loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

The loss of arctic sea ice has huge implications for our world. Many corporations are loving this idea as it opens up the long sought for Northwest Passage to shipping from Asia to Europe and the East Coast. However, there are the obvious ramifications. Permafrost is melting, forests in the artic are increaing, and wildlife are being pushed to the brink. Lakes are drying, methane being released from the permafrost is acting as another greenhouse gas, and the open ocean is warming much more readily than the sea ice. We really don't know how the rest of the world will respond. Many people suspect that this could lead to the drying of American west and Great Plains. The great Oklahoma Dust Bowl coincided with an unusually warm period in the arctic.

Sea levels will not rise as direct result of the melting of arctic sea ice, but its indirect consequence of warming the area surrounding Greenland could easilly lead to the melting of its ice cap (link available to most edu domains). The Greenland ice cap contains a volume of water approximately equal to the Gulf of Mexico. Should it melt, the southern half of Louisiana and much of Florida could be submerged over time. Ironically, some of the latest measurements are showing a temporary growth of the Greenland ice sheet. This is caused by warmer (but still sub-freezing) temperatures bringing more moisture and snow to the glacier. Obviously further warming would mean that eventually the freezing point will be broken and melting will start. By our best estimates, permanent artic sea ice could be gone any time between 2050 and 2100. Our children should be alive to see it.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment provides some information that was released last year as the result of an international effort.

Eos, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, has been hotly discussing this situation in recent months. Below is a compilation of the articles published since August.

Another hot topic in Eos has been Hurricane Katrina. I know many of you have a great interest in Katrina so I included some additional articles:

Posted by Bryan Woods | Permalink