Oh no! What will Santa do now that the North Pole is becoming a giant pool? That’s right, folks. According to the North Pole Environmental Observatory, the summer ice is melting away at unprecedented rates, forming a shallow lake at the top of the world.
Here’s a time lapse video showing how the ice thaws over time:
According to Live Science, the temperature in the Arctic is indeed warmer than average this summer:
In early July, temperatures were 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) higher than average over much of the Arctic Ocean, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center.
The lake is purely made of melted ice, not sea water poking through to the surface. The extent of the sea ice has been shrinking for decades. Because the ice is also losing its thickness, some scientists expect the Arctic ocean to be largely free of summer ice by 2020.
There are at least two reasons to be alarmed about global warming:
1. The Water Heats Up And The Ice Melts
As the overall temperature of the water increases with global warming, it naturally expands a little making the oceans rise. So the most obvious consequence of higher sea temperatures is a rapid rise in sea level. This causes flooding of coastal habitats for humans as well as plants and animals, shoreline erosion, and more powerful storm surges that can devastate low-lying areas. Sound familiar?
Global warming also causes glaciers and ice sheets to melt. In 1995 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report that contained various projections of the sea level change by the year 2100. They estimate that the sea will rise 50 centimeters (20 inches) with the lowest estimates at 15 centimeters (6 inches) and the highest at 95 centimeters (37 inches). In case you weren’t sure, twenty inches is a lot.
Now there are new fears.
2. Release Of Arctic Methane Could Cost Trillions Of Dollars
From The Guardian:
Rapid thawing of the Arctic could trigger a catastrophic “economic timebomb” which would cost trillions of dollars and undermine the global financial system, say a group of economists and polar scientists.
The release of a single giant “pulse” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea “could come with a $60tn [£39tn] global price tag”, according to the researchers who have for the first time quantified the effects on the global economy.
Even the slow emission of a much smaller proportion of the vast quantities of methane locked up in the Arctic permafrost and offshore waters could trigger catastrophic climate change and “steep” economic losses, they say.
According to Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar ocean physics group at Cambridge University and one of the authors of the paper published in the journal Nature detailing this research:
“This massive methane boost will have major implications for global economies and societies. Much of those costs would be borne by developing countries in the form of extreme weather, flooding and impacts on health and agricultural production.”
Every story of course has a good side, and this one is no exception.
New Arctic Shipping Routes
Because of sea ice melt, business is capitalizing on the new Arctic shipping routes.
Richard Milne at The Financial Times reports that melting sea ice is raising the prospect of an important new route for trade between Asia and Europe that shaves thousands of miles off the trip.
Arctic shipping has increased fourfold in recent years and is now set for a record year. That’s because some ships can now take the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which goes from the Atlantic to the Pacific using the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska. As of last week, 204 ships had been granted permission to take the NSR this year. In 2012, the number was 46.
The Southern Route, via the Suez Canal and India and China, can take 10 – 15 days longer.
So do the advantages of global warming outweigh the risks? And where will Santa go, once there is no North Pole?
Photo Credit: thinkstock