The climate is changing. We know that. But in the Arctic, climate change is in overdrive — it’s warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, on average...
One of the most obvious indicators of our warming world is melting Arctic sea ice. According to preliminary data, Arctic sea ice set a record low every day (every single day!) in May. And in June, we set an astonishing record. Arctic sea ice covered a full 100,000 square miles less ocean than the previous record low, and it was 525,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 long-term average. That’s incredible.
Check out this video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that shows how — and why — Arctic sea ice has changed over the last 25 years.
Let’s back up. What is Arctic sea ice exactly?
Simply put, sea ice is frozen water from the ocean. It forms there and melts there, unlike icebergs and glaciers (which emerge on land and can float in the ocean). Arctic sea ice plays an important role in the global climate system.
But how? Well, sea ice is bright and reflective: 80 percent of the sunlight that hits it is reflected back into space. But when sea ice melts, the dark ocean surface is exposed which, by contrast, absorbs 90 percent of the sunlight striking it. And when oceans become warmer, more sea ice melts, and suddenly you have a dangerous and powerful positive feedback loop — a runaway train.
So, what’s going on?
Thirty or so years ago, the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean was mostly old, thick ice that survived year-round. It was surrounded by seasonal ice that was much younger, thinner, and more vulnerable to changing temperatures. But with climate change, more and more Arctic sea ice hasn’t lasted long enough to withstand warming summers — and that puts the entire Arctic at risk to melting, causing sea levels to rise and ice to retreat in a big, big way. That’s not good for the Arctic, and it’s not good for the planet.
But wait. Here’s the real kicker.
We know that when we burn dirty fossils, harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are released into our atmosphere. Because of that, the climate is changing, sea and land ice is melting, and sea levels are rising.
But Big Oil may be able to profit off of melting sea ice — a disaster of their own making.
But Big Oil may be able to profit off of melting sea ice — a disaster of their own making. Melting sea ice makes parts of the Arctic Ocean accessible that once were not, opening up new offshore drilling opportunities for at least 90 billion barrels of crude oil. But, climate impacts notwithstanding, drilling in the Arctic is a particularly risky endeavor. Huge, moving icebergs, strong winds and big waves, along with colder temperatures during the winter, make spills more likely as well as more difficult to clean up.
We can’t let Big Polluters continue to determine our future.
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