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The poles really are melting, and fast

The poles really are melting, and fast


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SALT LAKE CITY — While the U.S is experience a drought and heat wave that is hotter than in many years, the Earth's poles are sweating as well. Arctic ice is melting at near-record rates and the Antarctic is as warm as at any time in the past 12,000 years.

An ice summary from the National Snow & Ice Data Center indicates that arctic sea ice is currently below its lowest record, set in 2007.

"Arctic sea ice extent during the first two weeks of August continued to track below 2007 record low daily ice extents. As of August 13, ice extent was already among the four lowest summer minimum extents in the satellite record, with about five weeks still remaining in the melt season," the summary read.

"A new daily record...would be likely by the end of August," NSIDC lead scientist Ted Scambos, told Reuters.

According to the NSIDC, 2007 was a consistently low year for Arctic ice, while 2012 seems to be a "mixed bag, with no consistent conditions," higher at times and very low at others. Professor of climate physics Seymour Laxon told the BBC that such a low year may mean that the models that predicted a sea-ice-free summer by 2030-2040 may need to be revised downward.

"The fact that we look set to get another record ice minimum in such a short space of time means that the modellers may once again need to go and look at what their projections are telling them," he said.

The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of August 13, 2012, along with daily ice extent data for the previous five years. 2012 is shown in blue, 2011 in orange, 2010 in pink, 2009 in navy, 2008 in purple, and 2007 in green. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data.
The graph above shows Arctic sea ice extent as of August 13, 2012, along with daily ice extent data for the previous five years. 2012 is shown in blue, 2011 in orange, 2010 in pink, 2009 in navy, 2008 in purple, and 2007 in green. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. (Photo: Courtesy NSIDC)

A little further south in Greenland, a warm weather system triggered an unusually fast melt across all of Greenland in July. Scientists called the melt "unprecedented."

"You literally had this wave of warm air wash over the Greenland ice sheet and melt it," NASA ice scientist Tom Wagner told the Associated Press in late July. Scientists called the high-pressure weather systems that triggered the melting similar to the systems causing warm weather and drought across much of the Midwest this year.

Meanwhile, near the South Pole, the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest-warming places on the planet. A new detailed study, published this week in Nature, of the last 15,000 years of ice indicates that over the last 100 years the peninsula has rapidly warmed. The area was at its warmest roughly 12,000 years ago and at its coldest about 600 years ago. It then began a gradual warming, picking up speed in the last century.

"We know that something unusual is happening in the Antarctic Peninsula," said lead author Dr. Robert Mulvaney in a release.

Ice shelves have been collapsing into the ocean in the area since the 1990s, and rapid warming could endanger shelves even further south, the authors said.

"If this rapid warming that we are now seeing continues, we can expect that ice shelves further south along the Peninsula that have been stable for thousands of years will also become vulnerable," said co-author Dr Nerilie Abram with the Australian National University.

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David Self Newlin

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