Global warming is happening. 2015 had been declared the hottest year since 1880, and now this last July is registered as the hottest month in recorded history.

NASA just announced that the frozen ocean water by the polar caps, better known as the “sea ice” in the Arctic has declined dramatically over the years.

NASA just announced that the frozen ocean water by the polar caps, better known as the "sea ice" in the Arctic has declined dramatically over the years. Photo credit: Eric Rignot / JPL / American Geophysical Union
NASA just announced that the frozen ocean water by the polar caps, better known as the “sea ice” in the Arctic had declined dramatically over the years. Photo credit: Eric Rignot / JPL / American Geophysical Union

This is very, very serious because the Arctic helps protect against extreme temperatures, as it regulates the global climate, much like an air conditioner.

The sea ice typically grows in winter, and shrinks in summer, however, the sea ice levels have remained low in the last few years, as NASA notes are “the new normal.”

The sea ice levels are in a steady, long-term decline, and it’s not showing any signs of recovering soon. NASA is preparing new methods to keep track of them.

Currently, scientists have a good grasp on the changes of the sea ice regarding the area, but their knowledge of just how thick the ice remains limited. The ice thickness is a vital characteristic, but difficult to track actually from orbit.

Although research submarines and some airborne instruments have been able to take measurements or give data used to calculate it, satellites haven’t been able to do so, especially when it comes to melting conditions.

NASA’s ice satellite

NASA plans to launch in 2018 a satellite to obtain complete information about the thickness of the sea ice layers.

The satellite is called the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 or ICESat-2 and is equipped with a laser altimeter, instead of the usual radar instruments, which have difficulty gathering information.

However, there is still a limitation: the satellite will compare how high the ice is against the water level; that’s just one-tenth of the sea ice.

The rest remains underwater, which will require calculations that take into account the many environmental variables, such a density of the layers and the amount of snow on top of the superficial ice, to estimate the entire thickness of the ice floe.

However, the scientists aren’t deterred. They’re eager about learning the measurements, as the sea ice thickness is an essential factor in determining mass changes, such as increased melting, of sea ice.

Humanity needs to change

However, the fact remains that human influence in the delicate systems of our world is undeniable. Scientists and other experts say that human impact is causing climate change and global warming.

In particular, greenhouse gasses are very dangerous, and its emissions have been noted to be “the highest in history” according to a recent assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Photo credit: National Climate Assessment
Photo credit: National Climate Assessment

Of course, some skeptics deny or downplay human impact and believe that fears and risks are greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, many experts disagree.

Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge, ex-director of the Scott Polar Research Institute and who has spent his scientific life studying the cryosphere, notes a significant change in the last 30 years.

A worrying prognostic

The Arctic sea ice covered around eight million square kilometers at its minimum in September of 1970. Today it sits somewhere around 3.4 million square kilometers, declining by approximately thirteen percent each decade.

Wadhams has seen it thin this last thirty years by around forty percent, as he joined various polar expeditions since 1970.

As NASA confirmed that July 2016 was the hottest month ever, he published a book titled A Farewell to Ice where he expresses his fears that the Arctic approaches a “death spiral” where the remaining summer ice could disappear, forever.

With the global warming concentrated mostly in the polar regions -the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world-, Wadhams notes that we might shortly see ice-free Arctic Septembers.

This will be followed by four or five months with no ice, which Wadhams predicts will lead to the inevitable result of releasing massive plumes of greenhouse gasses that will speed up warming.

He states that what is happening right now with the ice is a catastrophe for humanity and not just some isolated problem in some remote corner of our world.

Data backups scientists’ worries

And the data doesn’t lie about warming: the current average temperature of 2016 has been 1.3 degrees Celsius higher than in the late 19th century, and it’s certainly gearing up to be the warmest year to date, beating last year — a worrisome trend.

Countries such as China, New Zealand, Indonesia, the United States and India have suffered their worst heat waves and floods in decades.

Many parts of the world, such as northern Africa, most of Southeast Asia and the Middle East had experience droughts, extreme temperatures and disrupted rainfall patterns put millions at risk because of failed harvests.

Climate change can ostensibly be stopped if reducing greenhouse emissions — and cutting them fast — is accomplished.

Wedhams, for his part, advocates global interest geoengineering (or climate engineering) along with alternatives such as nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions.

Sources: The Guardian