The Arctic without ice… That’s like a rainforest without trees or a desert without sand. And yet, according to one leading environmental scientist, that’s exactly where we’re headed.
Ice in the Arctic zone is melting about 50 years too fast, thanks to rising temperatures and man-made climate change. Methane, a greenhouse gas, has sat frozen on the sea bed up to this point, but is bubbling to the surface faster than anyone in the scientific community could have predicted. While some attest that the danger is exaggerated fodder for desperate media sources, others see a world where the ice caps cease to exist, and polar bears are chalked up with the dinosaurs and the dodo bird as the next big species to say “bye-bye.”
Professor Peter Wadhams, who heads the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, believes that, “the Arctic ice may well disappear, that is, have an area of less than one million square kilometers for September of this year… Even if the ice doesn’t completely disappear, it is very likely that this will be a record low year. I’m convinced it will be less than 3.4 million square kilometers,” which would be a record low for the region.
Wadhams claims the Arctic could potentially be free of snow either this year or the next for the first time in over 100,000 years. The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre shows that there were just over 11 million square kilometers of sea ice flowing at the beginning of June. That doesn’t sound so bad at first, but the average has been nearly 13 million square kilometers for the last 30 years. Considering the difference (1.5 million sq km), the amount of ice lost is roughly equal to six United Kingdoms.
“I think there’s a reasonable chance it could get down to a million this year, and if it doesn’t do it this year, it will do it next year,” Wadhams proclaims.
As one study by Wadhams mentions, further loss of ice would entail a serious rise in global temperature, and the Earth’s surface darkening over time – which basically means no more leaving the house without sunblock. Without the ice to reflect the sun’s rays, the planet would absorb more solar energy.
“When the sea ice retreats,” explains Wadhams, “it changes the whole situation. People are right to be concerned about the sea ice retreat and disappearance mainly because of all these other feedbacks.”
Despite the direness of the situation, not everyone is convinced by Wadham’s research. Climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick, for example, says he’s unable to say for sure if Wadhams’ is correct, but feels that if he’s wrong, “this kind of projection leads to climate skeptics and deniers to criticize the entire community.”
Professor Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University also finds herself looking at Wadham’s claims with a questioning eye. She believes his predictions are more likely to occur between 2030 and 2050. However, both Francis and Gleick did acknowledge that the danger is growing regularly, and that the time to issue the necessary warnings has arrived.
“We are definitely looking at a very unusual situation up in the Arctic,” says Professor Francis. “The ice is very low, and there have been record-breaking low amounts of ice in January, February, March, April, and now May, so this is very worrisome.”