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article imageFrom Greenland to Alaska, Arctic is heating up rapidly

By Karen Graham     Jun 17, 2019 in Environment
Ice is melting at unprecedented levels as summer approaches in the Arctic. In recent days, observations have revealed a record-challenging melt event over the Greenland ice sheet, while the extent of ice over the Arctic Ocean is the lowest ever.
The Arctic's ice melt is an event that takes place annually, from June through August with peak rates occurring in July. That being said - the high temperatures and extreme ice melt taking place this year are unprecedented.
On Wednesday last week, temperatures in Greenland soared to 40 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for this time of the year. The mean temperature usually remains below +10° C (50° F) in June, July, and August in just about every town in Greenland, while all places are below freezing from November through to April. Greenland had a total ice loss estimated to be more than 2 gigatons (equal to 2 billion tons) on just that day alone.
It's "another series of extreme events consistent with the long-term trend of a warming, changing Arctic," said Zachary Labe, a climate researcher at the University of California at Irvine, reports Science Alert.
Climate scientists are already comparing this year's extraordinary ice-melt event to 2012, which saw record-breaking ice loss when almost all of Greenland's ice sheet was exposed to melt for the first time in documented history. The one big difference is that this year's ice melt started three weeks earlier than the 2012 event.
What's more, this "premature" ice loss could exacerbate further loss in upcoming months because of something called the "albedo effect." Basically, light surfaces reflect more heat than dark surfaces. This is called the albedo effect.
When the ice melts it opens up land and sea to the sun, which then absorbs more heat that would have been bounced off by the ice, leading to more warming. It's a vicious circle of warmth that's changing the environment at the north pole.
Another contributing factor to Greenland's melting event is the consistent humid, high-temperature air flowing up from the Central Atlantic, along with the warmer currents of ocean water.
"We've had a blocking ridge that has been anchored over East Greenland throughout much of the spring, which led to some melting activity in April – and that pattern has persisted," Thomas Mote, a research scientist at the University of Georgia, told CNN.
Over the past week or two, the high-pressure ridge has gotten even stronger as another high-pressure front moved in from the eastern United States - the one that caused the prolonged hot and dry period in the Southeast earlier this month.
Alaska faring no better than Greenland
The high pressure over the Arctic has also helped to pull sea ice way from the northern Alaska coast and has resulted in an extremely low sea-ice extent this year. "It's pretty remarkable how much open water is in that area," Labe said.
In Alaska, the climate crisis led this year to the warmest spring on record for the state. The city of Akiak, located in the southwestern region of Alaska, may turn into an island due to swelling riverbanks and erosion exacerbated by thawing permafrost and ice melt.
Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Research Center scientist Susan Natali told The Guardian, according to Common Dreams, that what's happening in Akiak is just an indicator of the danger posed to Alaska by the climate crisis. And the changes are accelerating, Natali said.
"Thawing will result in people losing their home - in cities like Akiak, it already has," Natali warned, eventually the scope of the problem will be "beyond the capabilities of the U.S. government to handle."
And Akiak is not the only community of Alaska's western coast that is at risk from the climate crisis. The accelerating erosion is forcing several villages to consider moving. In Quinhagak, a village on the Bering Sea, erosion is threatening the sewer lagoon and the building that houses its washeteria and health clinic.
Quinhagak is especially vulnerable to erosion. It’s surrounded by water, with the Kuskokwim Bay in front and the Arolik and Kanektok Rivers on either side. The warming climate has already started melting the permafrost and speeding the erosion process along the ocean and the rivers.
The sewer lagoon sits close to the ocean, about 200 feet or so. The big problem for community elders is how they would close up the lagoon if the erosion causes the waste to leak into the ocean. Kuskokwim Bay is an important food source. Without a doubt, the whole village, along with several others along the coast will have to be moved.
More about Climate crisis, Arctic, Greenland, Alaska, 40 degrees warmer
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