Melting Ice and Rising Temperatures

The Arctic is making news this year, but it isn’t good news. Now that the summer solstice has passed and the Arctic sea ice melt season has kicked into high gear, the Arctic sea ice extent is declining rapidly, and setting record lows for June. In May, Arctic air temperatures remained well above average, and scientists believe the sea ice extent has fallen below that recorded in 2006, the previous record low for spring melting. Yet, surprisingly, 2007 set the record for lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record, as summer conditions created an unprecedented and unexpected melting that shocked researchers.

Certainly, current conditions could result in a new record low this summer, but wind and weather conditions are too difficult to predict to know for certain. Most are not predicting a record low for 2010. Nevertheless, these same expert scientists are worried by the decline in sea ice extent, and the dramatic loss of older, more resilient sea ice over the last decade. During May, sea ice melted at the rate of 68,000 square kilometers per day, about 50% above the mean for this time of year. Temperatures throughout most of the Arctic have been a scorching 2 to 5°C (4-9°F) above normal for late spring and early summer

The Arctic is important. Arctic sea ice reflects sunlight, keeping the polar regions cool and moderating global climate. As it melts, the planet will warm.

That’s one factor in this year’s record temperatures. So far, 2010 has been the warmest year on record, and the last three months have been particularly warm. The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for May was the warmest on record, at 1.24°F (0.69°C) above the 20th century average of 58.6°F (14.8°C). More importantly, the global land surface temperature for May was 1.87°F (1.04°C) above the 20th century average of 52.0°F (11.1°C).

If that doesn’t scare you, then you haven’t been paying attention.

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.