Arctic Ice in Death Spiral

This is the opening paragraph of a recent IPS article:

“The carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have melted the Arctic sea ice to its lowest volume since before the rise of human civilisation, dangerously upsetting the energy balance of the entire planet, climate scientists are reporting.”

Consider the implications of that paragraph then consider these statements by Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre:

“I stand by my previous statements that the Arctic summer sea ice cover is in a death spiral. It’s not going to recover.”

“I hate to say it but I think we are committed to a four- to six-degree warmer Arctic.”

The IPS article highlights some very serious impacts and possibilities:

  • the exceptional cold and snowy winter of 2009-2010 in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America was connected to unique physical processes in the Arctic;
  • one local impact underway is a rapid warming of the coastal regions of the Arctic, where average temperatures are now three to five degrees C warmer than they were 30 years ago;
  • if the global average temperature increases from the present 0.8 C to two degrees C, the entire Arctic region will warm at least four to six degrees and possibly eight degrees; and
  • if the Arctic becomes six degrees warmer then half of the world’s permafrost will likely thaw, probably to a depth of a few metres, releasing most of the carbon and methane accumulated there over thousands of years.

If that last point occurs, it would be catastrophic for human civilisation – the permafrost region spans 13 million square kilometres of the land in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe and contains at least twice as much carbon as is currently present in the atmosphere.

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