The Arctic ice cap has collapsed at an unprecedented rate this summer and levels of sea ice in the region now stand at a record low, scientists said last night. Experts said they were "stunned" by the loss of ice, with an area almost twice as big as Britain disappearing in the last week alone. So much ice has melted this summer that the north-west passage across the top of Canada is fully navigable, and observers say the north-east passage along Russia's Arctic coast could open later this month. If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.
Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will disappear by 2050, even under moderate projections for shrinking summer sea ice caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, government scientists reported on Friday.
About 40 percent of the floating ice that normally blankets the top of the world during the summer will be gone by 2050, says James Overland, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Earlier studies had predicted it would be nearly a century before that much ice vanished. "This is a major change," Overland said. "This is actually moving the threshold up."
All of this is indeed horrifying, but it is not cause for despair, but rather a call to action. The good news is that there is still time to save the Arctic, though the window is closing. Our hope lies in a rapid response including both deep and immediate carbon dioxide reductions, as well as a full-court press on other greenhouse pollutants such as methane. While carbon dioxide emissions remain in the atmosphere for about a century, and therefore commit us to long term warming, methane is more powerful but remains for only about a decade. Opportunities to reduce methane from sources like landfills, mining, and agriculture abound, and such reductions would also directly benefit air quality and human health. With such reductions we can still buy ourselves some time.
But we cannot "stay the course" of our current energy consumption, land use, and transportation patterns, without losing the Arctic sea ice, polar bears, and the quality of life we have enjoyed.