World in View: Arctic ice meltoff

From the March-April 2018 issue of News & Letters

The maps above compare the Arctic ice minimum extents from 2012 (top) and 1984 (bottom). In 1984 the sea ice extent was roughly the average of the minimum from 1979 to 2000, and so was a typical year. The minimum sea ice extent in 2012 was roughly half of that average. Photo: Wikipedia.

This year Arctic sea ice levels reached a new record low for January. The previous record was set in 2017. Some climate scientists estimate that the Arctic may be ice-free in summer within a few decades. This has been dubbed the New Arctic.

Nations are already assuming this will happen, as seen by their competition for mineral rights. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the region contains about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and 30% of its undiscovered natural gas resources.

Russia, the U.S., and even a country not bordering the Arctic like China (which intends to expand its Belt and Road Initiative by opening a “Polar Silk Road”) are contending for these resources.

Effects of the Arctic ice meltoff are being studied and argued, but to some the impact is clear. After about half the ice in the north Bering Sea disappeared in just two weeks, hampering Indigenous fast ice fishing, Inuit fisherman Edmond Apassingok said, “Now it’s just all open water, between St. Lawrence Island and Siberia. It’s undescribable. It’s crazy. Time is broken.”

Sea ice levels in the Antarctic were also lower than usual, resulting in a record low for global sea ice extent.

—Gerry Emmett

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