A Tale of Two Poles

By on October 2, 2012
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The Arctic ice melt has halted – for now. On September 16th, the record decline in the frozen mass constituting our planet’s “attic” reached a low of 3.41 million square kilometers. This figure roughly translates into 43 percent the size of the contiguous United States. What’s so alarming about this extent of ice loss over the past several decades is that it is unmatched in at least the past 1,450 years. We might have to go back to 4,000 B.C. to observe such a minimal amount of ice present across the Arctic region.

The rate of thaw has been 12 percent each decade, which is worse than even the grimmest scenario that scientists laid out in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The current model variance for an ice-free Arctic ranges from 30 years to a mere four years from present day. The general consensus of model agreement, though, tends to be at least 10 years.

A shot of the polar ice shelf in 2009. http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/

Yet, with unpredictability being a hallmark of climate change, a more rapidly deteriorating melt should probably be anticipated.

And for more ennui, this year marks the fifth straight time that ice-free navigation has been possible along both the coasts of Canada and Russia. Some scientist believe that in a few decades, ice-free navigation across the Arctic Ocean may be possible in the month of August.

Unless you happen to work for a global transport company or have a strong desire to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic, you should be concerned about this news. Besides the previously reported sea level rise and release of carbon and methane into the atmosphere, there are other effects that will require our attention.

One major repercussion is on the jet stream, which is a quick-flowing current of air that serves as a demarcation line between different air masses. The less ice cover means that more of the sun’s heat will be absorbed by the darker-colored ocean, which in turn will prompt more warm and moist air to enter the atmosphere, leading to changes in the stream patterns. These disturbances in a naturally occurring jet stream are evident in the fall and winter, where an over-amplified stream can result in extreme weather events, such as record cold snaps or severe storms.

One other bit of recent news is the meager long-term growth of Antarctic sea ice, despite the fact that the waters around the continent are warming at record rates. How can this be? One would imagine that as ocean temperatures rise, scientist would observe a shrinking ice mass.

The answer has to do with stratification. The Southern Ocean has both a layer of cold water near the surface and a warmer sector at a deeper level. As the general rule goes, warm water rises, leading to ice melt near the surface. As the disintegration continues, there is an increase in air temperatures, which triggers more snow and rain to fall. The added precipitation causes the cold surface layer of the ocean to become less dense and more stratified, or separated, from the warmer water below. Since less mixing of the two layers occurs, less warm water rises to the surface. The result is less sea ice lost – in the short term, though. As the world continues to warm, the water will be unable to support such an abundance of ice, and more thawing will ensue.
Clearly, the phenomena in the Arctic and the Antarctic yet again demonstrate the fragile lattice that is our planet. And that lattice is breaking.

Eric LaFiore
Staff Writer
beemer26@uab.edu

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Les-Johnson/100001482148221 Les Johnson

    A little plagarism? This is nearly identical to a 2010 post at SkS.
    .
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/antarctica-gaining-ice-intermediate.htm
    .
    from SkS:
    .
    Another contributor is changes in ocean circulation. The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less.

    • Eric

      No, Les. I ran the piece by my editor before publication, and it was fine.

      I obtained much of my information for the piece from this blog post by Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground:

      http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=2237

      He does mention the skepticalscience.com piece you reference – towards the end of his post. I will note for future purposes to do more explicit internal citation. I am getting used to these more news-based type of articles.

      The facts still stand, though.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Les-Johnson/100001482148221 Les Johnson

        If one does not cite the source, it is plagarism. Because the editor did not catch it, does not make it “fine”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Les-Johnson/100001482148221 Les Johnson

    Now, lets to get to the logical fallacy. You are saying that more melting ice causes more ice.
    A bit hard to reconcile, no?

    • Eric

      Where is it stated that melting ice causes more ice, Les? The two poles are the focus of the piece, with each getting separate attention. There is record ice loss around one and paltry ice gain (in the short run) around the other.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Les-Johnson/100001482148221 Les Johnson

        Read your own article. Or rather, Cook’s article.
        .
        “Disintegrating ice” causes more precipitation, which in turn causes more ice.
        .
        Its a logical fallacy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Les-Johnson/100001482148221 Les Johnson

        “Paltry”? While the arctic ice is at record lows, the antarctic ice is at record highs.
        .
        All the while, ignoring that the antarctic ice pack has been increasing over the satellite record. Its not a one-off. Its a 30 plus year trend, and a statistically significant trend at that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Les-Johnson/100001482148221 Les Johnson

    Lets also look at the data.
    .
    According to these researchers, the water under the antartic ice is NOT warming.
    .
    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/antarctic-sea-water-shows-no-sign-of-warming/story-e6frfku0-1225818314421.
    .
    And NASA says that Antarctica ice sheet is GAINING in mass, not decreasing.
    .
    http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20120013495_2012013235.pdf

    • njox15

      Your first point links to an article that’s almost 3 years old – not the best source of up-to-date climate news. And your second point makes it seems like you didn’t even read the write-up to begin with, since the ice sheet is addressed in the article.

      I see you used to work in the oil industry, and I know that you desperately want to deny the reality of how fossil fuels are destroying our planet. I just thought deniers like you would bring it better.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Les-Johnson/100001482148221 Les Johnson

        Almost 3 years old? That would mean that at least until 3 years ago, there had been no warming of the antarctic waters. As you still need warm water to melt ice, that conflicts with your “disintegrating ice causes more ice” theory, no?
        .
        The NASA article also states that the ice sheet is getting larger. This also conflicts with the melting ice sheet causing more ice pack.
        .
        As for your ad hom? I hold patents in methane control, that prevents up to 250,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent from being released, every year. My house has solar power, LED lighting, smart thermostats, etc, that uses 20%-80% less power than my neigbours, according to my smart meter (seasonal dependent).
        .
        I am disappointed that you need to resort to a school yard level of insults. In a discussion, one only resorts to insults when one runs out of facts.

  • Eric LaFiore

    Writer’s Note:

    I am aware of my mistake in how I presented the material in
    the last paragraph, as well as my failure to cite the proper source. I will be more conscious
    of source attribution in future pieces. I am sorry for any confusion this
    issue may have caused.

    However, I still fully stand behind the information
    and sentiment of my piece.

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