An Ice-Free Arctic: Why Should You Care?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are aware of the global climate change crisis we are currently facing on planet Earth. You may also ask yourself, “Who is at fault for this?”, “Why should I care?”, and “What parts of our planet are getting hit hardest?”. In this post, I will provide answers to these often misunderstood questions, but more importantly, I will be focusing on one particular geographic region that is often overlooked by the general public: the Arctic.

What is the Arctic?

A region that falls within the Arctic Circle. The edge of that circle is defined as the northernmost point at which the sun is visible on the northern winter solstice and the southernmost point at which the midnight sun can be seen on the northern summer solstice. The high Arctic is that most northerly third of this region. It’s a region dominated by snow cover much of the year.

Below is a regional map of the Arctic. Take note of the red dashed line and how it crosses over various political boundaries.


The Details

On September 18, 2019, the Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent this year, at 4.16 million square kilometers. This number is the second lowest on record, with only 3.4 million square kilometers in 2012 topping it. This is nothing to be proud of. Especially when you come to accept with the fact that this is all due to anthropogenic causes or human induced. An increase in greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere is the leading cause for our warming planet.

Over the last century, the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases as well.

According to a recent special report on the ocean and cryosphere, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body for assessing the science due to climate change, claim that we could very likely see an ice-free Arctic once every 100 years if we limit warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. But, if we warm to 2 C, that would increase to once every three years.

The Science

Snow and ice have long played a vital role in moderating Earth’s climate since the beginning of time. The white surfaces reflect the sun’s radiation, which in turn help to maintain a comfortable temperature to sustain life on our planet.

Since our planet is experiencing an extreme warming effect, ice thins and melts which then exposes the dark water below, which then absorbs the radiation. So each year the global temperature rises, melting more ice and more snow. This process is called a positive feedback loop, warming causes ice melt, ice melt causes warming. And that process — also called Arctic amplification, the science explaining why temperatures are warming faster in the Arctic region than anywhere else in the world. This ultimately leads to what we are observing now, which is a rapidly changing climate.

The positive (amplifying) climate feedback loop.


Arctic Amplification

In order to fully understand why the Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest minimum extent this year, it is imperative to understand the scientific complexity behind this phenomenon.

In sum, the loss of sea ice is a major reason. When bright white and reflective ice melts, it gives way to a darker ocean; this amplifies the warming trend because the ocean surface absorbs more heat from the Sun than the surface of snow and ice. In more technical terms, losing sea ice reduces Earth’s albedo: the lower the albedo, the more a surface absorbs heat from sunlight rather than reflecting it back to space.

Since the Arctic circle is largely covered in ice, it is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet!

Temperature anomaly map showcasing the large increases in temperatures (red) in the Arctic region. The darker the red, the greater the warming effect in that region or Arctic amplification.


Watch the NASA video below to learn more.

Military Involvement?

If you are interested in learning about the political and military impact this warming trend has had on the Arctic region, read this article from National Geographic.


One Reply to “An Ice-Free Arctic: Why Should You Care?”

  1. Really great post Hana! I love the linking of other websites for the opportunity to learn more. Honestly, this post answered a lot of the questions I have with the climate change crisis so I can see it being very helpful to a whole lot more people. Mainly, I would like to know what can we do as teachers to help fight this problem? How do we get our students and their families to buy in and save the Arctic?

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