« America To The Rescue | Main | Today's Bush Joke »

August 24, 2007

Arctic Ice Melt Shatters Previous Record Energy  Environment

When the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report came out, there were people who called it alarmist. It now appears that it may have been wildly over-optimistic. The summer melt of Arctic ice this year is proceeding so rapidly that it is on target — this year — to hit a level the IPCC projected wouldn't happen until 2050. The ice sheet has already shrunk to its smallest size on record, with another month of melting to go.

Here's the previous record, September 22, 2005 (source):

Here's what it looks like today — with another month of melting to go:

This is no trivial matter. As the ice melts, the Arctic absorbs more solar radiation, warming further, causing further melting, etc., in a feedback loop that will have significant effects on the climate of the planet. And as we've seen so many times before, it's all happening faster than anyone anticipated. Canada.com:

Scientific institutes in the U.S. and Japan confirmed [August 17] that the Arctic Ocean ice cover has shrunk to the smallest size ever recorded, prompting a startling prediction from one expert that the world could witness a total summer melt within 25 years.

The latest findings support an alarm issued last week by another climate expert at the University of Illinois that all-time records for maximum meltage of the polar ice cap will be "annihilated" by the time Arctic temperatures start turning colder in mid-September.

"Everyone is seeing the same thing," Mark Serreze, a senior researcher with the Boulder, Colo.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center, told CanWest News Service on Friday.

"The sea ice seems to be on this death spiral," he said. "And this is not some nebulous thing like global temperature rises. You can see this with your own eyes." [...]

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency - expressing "fear that global warming will accelerate" as a result of the rapid melting - pegged the current size of the Arctic ice cover at 5.31 million square kilometres, just less than the historic low measured on Sept. 22, 2005.

But what worries researchers most is that there's still a month of melting left to go this summer.

"The absolute minimum is typically the first or second week of September," said Serreze, "but we've already set a record. That is amazing. That is just an eye-opener. We appear to be on the fast track of change."

The disappearance of Arctic sea ice is widely viewed not only as a key early indicator that climate change is well under way, but also as a portent of rapidly escalating global warming.

Reduced ice cover, and thus a darkened polar region, means the planet will absorb even more of the sun's energy and trigger higher temperatures, scientists believe.

"If you had talked to me a few years ago, I would have said total melting of Arctic ice might be possible by 2070 or 2100," said Serreze.

Noting that the rate of shrinkage has surpassed all climate models, he predicts that a complete summer melt could occur as early as 2030.

"For many of us, we might be looking at this within our lifetimes."

The Japanese agencies made similar forecasts, noting that the ice cover this year could shrink to 4.5 million square kilometres — a low that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change didn't expect to be reached until 2050. [Emphasis added]

So, how are governments reacting to this trend? By racing to establish territorial claims to the oil and gas buried under the Arctic seabed. Times of India:

If there were any lingering doubts as to how ill-prepared we are to face up to the reality of climate change, they were laid to rest this month when two Russian mini submarines dove two miles under the Arctic ice to the floor of the ocean, and planted a Russian flag made of titanium on the seabed. This first manned mission to the ocean floor of the Arctic, which was carefully choreographed for a global television audience, was the ultimate geopolitical reality TV.

Russian President Vladimir V Putin congratulated the aquanauts while the Russian government simultaneously announced its claim to nearly half of the floor of the Arctic Ocean. The Putin government claims that the seabed under the pole, known as the Lomonosov Ridge, is an extension of Russia's continental shelf, and therefore Russian territory. Not to be outdone, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hurriedly arranged a three-day visit to the Arctic to stake his country's claim to the region. Although in some respects the entire event appeared almost comical - a kind of late 19th century caricature of a colonial expedition - the intent was deadly serious. Geologists believe that 25 per cent of the earth's undiscovered oil and gas may be embedded within the rock underneath the Arctic Ocean.

The oil giants are already scurrying to the front of the line, seeking contracts to exploit the vast potential of oil wealth under the Arctic ice. The oil company BP has recently established a partnership with Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company, to explore the region. Aside from Russia and Canada, three other countries - Norway, Denmark (Greenland is a Danish possession that reaches into the Arctic) and the United States - are all claiming the Arctic seabed as an extensionof their continental shelves and, therefore, sovereign territory.

Under the Law of the Sea Treaty, adopted in 1982, signatory nations can claim exclusive economic zones for commercial exploitation, up to 200 miles out from their territorial waters. The US has never signed the treaty, amidst concerns that other provisions of the treaty would undermine US sovereignty and political independence. Now, however, the sudden new interest in Arctic oil and gas has put a fire under US legislators to ratify the treaty, lest it is edged out of the Arctic oil rush.

What makes the whole development so utterly depressing is that the new interest in prospecting the Arctic subsoil and seabed for oil and gas is only now becoming possible because of climate change. For thousands of years, the fossil fuel deposits lay locked up under the ice and inaccessible. Now, global warming is melting away the Arctic ice, making possible, for the first time, the commercial exploitation of the oil and gas deposits. Ironically, the very process of burning fossil fuels releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide and forces an increase in the earth's temperature, which in turn, melts the Arctic ice, making available even more oil and gas for energy. The burning of these potential new oil and gas finds will further increase CO2 emissions in the coming decades, depleting the Arctic ice even more quickly. [Emphasis added]

It's too grotesque for words. We respond to global warming by racing to dig up even more carbon so we can send it into the atmosphere. Talk about a feedback loop. I'm tempted to say that with stupidity like this we deserve whatever we get, except that most of humanity — not to mention all the other species of life on Earth — is not participating in this insanity, but they will all pay the price.

Greed kills, and that includes greed for comfort and convenience.

Posted by Jonathan at August 24, 2007 04:30 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb