What to Know About a Melting Arctic

photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr

As the world shifts its focus towards the mounting impact of climate change, the earth’s most desolate locations are becoming the subject of climatologists’ most vigorous studies.

According to the NASA Earth Observatory, the Arctic has been subject to the Earth’s most dramatic increase in temperature, with temperatures rising twice as fast as mid-latitude locations.

The implications of this occurrence, which climatologists refer to as “Arctic Amplification,” are already of global importance, as rising sea levels are predicted to have a far-reaching and drastic impact on the entire globe.

Below are some of the most up-to-date studies on climate change’s Arctic impact.

The Arctic is losing about about 13 percent of its sea ice per decade

When it comes to measuring arctic impact, sea ice is one of the most important factors. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) arctic sea ice is integral to keeping polar regions cold and for regulating global temperatures.

Though the level of sea ice fluctuates annually–melting during the summer and replenishing in the winter–in 2012 it reached the lowest level recorded in history. Even in recent history, sea ice has taken a major hit; according to the NSIDC, arctic sea ice levels have shrunk by an alarming 40 percent since 1980.



New studies about solar reflectivity have amplified the Arctic melting estimates

As sea ice melts, so does the snow which has historically blanketed its surface. As a result, reflectivity of the sun’s rays, or “albedo” as it’s known in the scientific community, has been reduced significantly. This lack of reflectivity has coincided with an increased rate of melting that scientists believe may compound the effects of a warming environment.

Study links a melting Arctic to increasingly extreme weather patterns across the globe

Things are getting turbulent in the Arctic, especially when it comes to the ocean. According to recent research, the melting of Arctic ice may result in an increasingly rough Arctic Ocean. This increase in turbulence may also set off a chain reaction, altering and heating the Arctic Ocean’s fresh water.

As waters continue to warm, scientists speculate it may lead to a change in currents like the Gulf Stream which, due to its temperature, has been historically responsible for keeping winter weather warmer than it would be otherwise.

Melting ice is affecting the jetstream

Rapid melting is already beginning to alter the jet stream, which is largely responsible for steering weather systems from east to west. Scientists fear that this alteration will result in weather systems that progress more slowly, leading to increased droughts, floods, and heat waves.

As Arctic ice declines, the Antarctic is experiencing consistent growth

While Arctic ice has been in a freefall over the past several decades, Antarctica has seen record growth which has continued through 2014. Arctic sea ice hit its sixth lowest minimum ice extent this September, while Antarctica clocked it’s maximum ice extent at 595,000 sq. miles above the 30 year average.

Though the verdict is still out on what has caused this consistent growth, NSIDC researchers hypothesize that wind patterns and melting ice water, which may have cooled the ocean surface layer, may have contributed.

“Dark snow” has aided in the melting of Arctic glaciers

A combination of carbon particles from industrial pollution, soot from fires, and dust from bare soil, has blackened the surface of what were once reflective white glaciers, and is responsible for the aptly named phenomenon of dark snow.

This darkening has severely diminished reflectivity of the once reflective white glaciers (with some recorded reflectivity rates dropping as much as 20 percent in a month) and has aided the process of glacial melting.

The most recent measurements of Greenland’s dark snow in 2014 were the darkest that scientists have ever recorded.

James Pero