HOUSTON-WORLD - This year, sea ice is developing over the Arctic region at a notably slow pace, breaking records since the satellite era of the mid-20th century. That sounds bad and may be very bad. BUT, it's important to note that this data only goes back to 1979. That is only 37 years of satellite data. That's the a blink of an eye in climate science and in itself could mean this, "melting ice scenario" I present below, from the latest NOAA data isn't so unusual in the context of the many eons of climate cycles.
Ice extent is even well below normal right now in the Antarctic, where it has had all winter to form. (The southern hemisphere winter is during our summer.) This year's set up is currently resulting in a feedback loop right now as you read this, making it warmer and warmer by the second.
A lack of sea ice is both a symptom and a cause for our Earth's warmer climate. But, this isn't another blog pointing figures at why or, "who's responsible", but instead the horrible effects it could have.
Sea ice is an important regulator to our global temperature. It makes summers more tolerable and winters cold enough to allow snow to fall across many parts of the world. Further, ice and snow-pack reflect sunshine back out into space keeping our global temperature down. Interrupt the annual ice/snow formation patterns and entire eco systems become disrupted.
When you take away the mirror-like, reflective ground of snow and ice, sunshine is absorbed directly into the darker ground and converted into heat. That heat than melts more snow and ice, leading to more heat. It's an evil feedback loop.
Sea ice forms and melts each year based on the season. This year it's not coming back at the pace required to balance the climate we've all become accustomed to. It's going way to slow, which will undoubtedly help lead to a warmer winter and a hot summer with a higher likelihood of droughts and flooding.
Climate scientists attribute this sea ice formation problem with our warmer oceans. Oceans are warmer because heat from the atmosphere is absorbed into the ocean, like a giant heat sink. We experience this locally, when our Gulf beaches begin to feel like bath water in the summertime.
Helping to warm the oceans is the continuing injection of, "greenhouse gases" like CO2 (carbon dioxide) and methane -- the big villains of our time. There's an abundance of it being introduced into the atmosphere by massive forest fires, volcanoes -- and by humans.
Many are surprised to learn that water vapor is also one of the most efficient gases to trap heat. At night when it's cloudy, temperatures always stay warmer than if the night is clear. Water vapor prevents solar radiation acquired by day and converted into heat, from radiating away at night back into space. The warmer a planet, the more water evaporates into the atmosphere -- like steam when you boil water for pasta -- leading to more clouds and humidity. CO2 and other similar gases can be attributed to leading to that initial warm-up, but as more heat is trapped, more water vapor is supported by the atmosphere leading to a feedback loop in itself.
And so begins the death spiral ...
Warmer days = less ice = more solar radiation absorption = warmer days.
Warmer days = warmer ocean = less sea ice = warmer days.
Warmer days = more evaporated water vapor = warmer days.
Multiply effects with addition of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide and methane isn't just coming from people. When arctic tundra thaws, huge amounts are released, adding to the ability of our atmosphere to trap heat coming in from the sun.
Human detriments to a warmer planet? Unpredictable crops. Global famine. Deadlier heat waves. Extreme storms.
Human benefits to warmer planet? More CO2 and more warmth allows forests and crops to thrive in places they hadn't before, assuming rainfall is somewhat regular.
Solutions? Driving a hybrid is too little too late. We need something extreme. Think geo-engineering and orbital or atmospheric solar shield to manually reflect solar radiation back to space before it can enter. That might allow the ice to form properly again. Either way, the Earth is doomed anyway in a billion years or less, when the sun becomes a red giant an envelops us.
In the mean time, we have to live -- and we have to create a world that our children can live in -- until they can finish the job of making us an interplanetary species. Much in the same way you probably care about the health of your own body even though you know one day you will die, we simply can't trash the planet just because we know it too, will one day die.
... and you thought the election was the end of the world.