There are at least three Arctic ice melt records that will be broken soon, possibly within the next week. One is for the lowest level of arctic sea ice ever recorded. The others are for the fastest and the most Summer melting ever recorded.
From BBC News, “The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado says this year’s melt started between ten days to two weeks earlier than usual in some critical areas including northern Europe and Siberia. It’s expected to continue to melt into September.”
According to Business Insider, Arctic sea ice has melted at a rate of 100,000 square kilometers a day. There is a week to go before the melting slows and the Fall and Winter ice reformation begins. During the next week, the record for low levels of sea ice will be exceeded. The previous record was set in 2007 when an all time low of 4.33m sq km was recorded.
The sea ice melting rate of 100,000 square kilometers a day sets a new melting record for the month of August. To give an idea of the changing overall volume of Arctic sea ice over the past decade, the current volume is 5,770 cubic kilometers. During the past ten years there was 12,433 cubic kilometers. In 2011, there was 6,494 cubic kilometers of Arctic sea ice.
The ice has also been determined to be thinner, which will make the ice pack even more vulnerable to melting during the next Summer season.
One consequence of losing Arctic sea ice comes when there is less ice available to regulate atmospheric temperature. With less ice to reflect sunlight back and away from the Earth’s surface, there will be more ocean surface heating, along with unknown effects on the weather in the northern latitudes.
Structures and roads that were built on permafrost are at risk from melting permafrost. If the permafrost melts, it will not be able to support roads or buildings that were built in the expectation that the freezing would last forever. On the other hand, more mining will be possible. Also, coastlines are changing, meaning that more of the delicate coastal ecosystems and economies will be threatened.
The Arctic and the Antarctic are completely different masses. The Arctic is an ocean that is surrounded by land. The Antarctic is the opposite. It is a continent of land that is surrounded by ocean. This means that Antarctica has a system that is isolated from the global weather systems, which keeps the continent cold. As a result Antarctic sea ice melting conditions are within the norm. The Arctic, however is far more connected to regional and global weather systems, especially warming.
The melting sea ice will affect people and animals. Over 56,000 Inuit people in Greenland will have to adapt to retreating coastlines and changing ecosystems. The mammal population is declining, with Polar Bears especially at risk. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) estimates that, since ice platforms are disappearing, swimming is dangerous and food is scarce. The NWF estimates that two thirds of Polar Bears will be gone by 2050.
Also, Coastlines will continue to erode as storm surges attack fragile coastal structures that are no longer protected by the ice.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado has more information about Global snow and ice patterns. The NSIDC Polaris page has interactive features for those who wish to search the agency’s database.