These Ice Cap Images Show the Arctic’s Rapid Change
This has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week for ice around the world. First came news that Arctic sea ice set a record low extent this winter (topping the old record set last year). Then came news that the West Antarctic ice sheet is facing the threat of runaway melt.
Now, NASA Earth Observatory has decided to remind us that even small, less notable chunks of ice are under siege by rising temperatures, too.
The St. Patrick’s Bay ice caps sit on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada. Satellite images show their extent in 2004 and 2015. The yellow outline shows their extent in 1959.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
Ice caps are a type of glacier that form as a dome over the top of the land rather than the glaciers most folks are used to seeing grinding down the side of a mountain. (Another fun fact: if an ice cap is larger than 12 million acres, it’s an ice sheet.)
The not so fun fact about ice caps (and ice sheets and other glaciers for that matter) is they’re melting as the world warms. NASA’s Earth Observatory gathered satellite imagery of two well-studied ice caps on Canada’s Ellesmere Island located north of the Arctic Circle to illustrate the ice’s disappearing act.
The imagery captured in 2004 and 2015 shows a major decline in ice cover. When you add an outline of where the ice caps once stretched during a 1959 survey, the decline becomes even more notable. Freakishly warm temperatures in the Arctic this winter — which were up to 20°F above normal in some areas — will likely to hasten their decline and eventual demise.
The ice caps on Ellesmere Island are a special place to Mark Serreze, the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s director. He spent time there in the early 1980s for his graduate studies. In a feature for the NSIDC website, he said, “While I’ve been to a lot of interesting places since 1983, a day has rarely gone by that I haven’t thought about my early adventures on the St. Patrick Bay ice caps. To think that they are likely to die before I do blows my mind.”
Disappearing land ice is a major driver of sea level rise. The disappearance of these ice caps, however, will be a footnote in the history of climate change. It’s the big ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica that have scientists and those living along the coast concerned.
The research published this week shows that the West Antarctic ice sheet is at risk of runaway melt unless carbon emissions are dramatically curtailed. That would reshape coastlines around the globe for generations to come.
The West Antarctic contains enough ice to raise ocean levels by up to 13 feet if it were all to melt. That’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news for millions of people.
You May Also Like:
Nation’s Next Offshore Wind Farm Eyed For Virginia Coast
Antarctica at Risk of Runaway Melting, Scientists Discover
Study Questions China’s CO2 Emissions Dip
Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low Peak, Again