Sea Ice Melting at Alarming Rate

By Dr. Reese Halter

This past June (2012) saw the largest Arctic sea ice loss since the inception of record keeping – 1.18 million square miles or the equivalent area of Alaska, California, Florida and Texas. The Arctic is now warming four times faster than the global mean temperature. According to NOAA, so far 2012 is the hottest year on record.

This is an epic planetary emergency linked to flooding in EuropeJapan and the Philippines, drought in the U.S. and intensifying storms that are now disrupting Earth’s protective ozone shield. And at the end of the day, it’s directly threatening global food security.

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) is comprised of renowned concerned scientists, engineers and citizens headquartered in London, England. They are alerting the world to rapid retreating Arctic sea ice and its dire consequences including the staggering projection in 2015 of the total and potentially irreversible collapse of the remaining Arctic sea ice volume. Most of the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free for six months of the year by 2020 if sea ice trends continue. AMEG has a plan to cool the Arctic but more about that later.

Of immediate concern is the plight of farmers across both the United States and Great Britain.

As the Arctic sea ice retreats and the Arctic warms, there is a dramatic effect on the weather, due to its disruption of jet streams. As the jet stream loops farther to the north over western United States about two thirds of the nation is currently enveloped in the worst drought in over a half century. Insurers are already expecting to double last year’s record $10B in payouts. But vegetable farmers across drought-stricken America don’t take insurance to cover them in case of drought or flooding. So this year has been particularly brutal for them. In addition, the extreme summer heat has dissuaded shoppers from visiting farmer’s markets across the nation; attendance is off by as much as 50 percent.

A warming Arctic has caused the jet stream to meander south of the U.K. and eastern Europe resulting in abnormally cold and wet weather with flooding in many places. It has punished the farmers, badly. The lack of sunshine and waterlogged soil in Britain has decimated homegrown U.K.vegetables. Peas, usually available year round, are being flown in from Guatemala, carrots from South Africa, beans from Kenya, onions from New Zealand and Argentina and Vivaldi potatoes from Israel. And the price of U.K. fruit is set to soar as the worst summer rains in 30 years prevented honeybees from pollinating apples, pears and plums. Moreover, U.K. honey is now in short supply and its price has substantially increased.

Irrespective of whether one lives in the U.K. the U.S. ore elsewhere, consumers are facing escalating food costs. Some early estimates are already predicting a rise in the consumer price index of U.S. beef by as much as 5 percent.

It is crystal clear to those of us who have been following global warming for more than two decades that corporate leadership is of paramount importance to address this world issue, especially since there was lackluster political leadership from the recent UN Rio +20 Sustainability Summit.

Humans are exceptional problem solvers and make no mistake innovation is truly our best friend in the 21st century.

Sir Richard Branson is a tremendous example of a transformational leader who subscribes to the dictum: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and falling over.”

He fully grasps the magnitude of global warming and the challenge to obviate the pending energy crisis. In fact, Virgin is spending 100 percent of all profit from its airlines on developing plant-based jet fuels.

Sir Richard has likened the imminent threat of global warming to both World War I and World War II; it’s a third war that our species cannot loose. He founded and funded the Carbon War Room: 25 battles (each 1 billion tons of CO2) across 7 theaters.

His global reach has extended into energy efficiency programs, spending $100M in both Sacramento and Miami from a $650M fund he created – retrofitting buildings, installing solar and creating jobs. And there are 10 contenders vying for Virgin’s Earth Prize of $25M. Those teams of scientists are working on a decade-long project to demonstrate the most viable solution of reducing greenhouse gases, globally.

Both Greenland and the Arctic are melting at a record pace. We no longer have a decade to decide upon an action plan. Indecisive inaction is certainly not an option.

Millions of tons of methane (a potent heat trapping gas 72X stronger than CO2) are now being released from thawing sub-Arctic soils and bubbling from deposits melting beneath Arctic sea-beds.

AMEG scientists are proposing pumping seawater spray into the atmosphere from ships or islands in the North Atlantic to create massive white clouds, mimicking the missing white sea ice (which reflects incoming solar radiation) to help cool off our planet.

This is a crucial time in the history of our species. We need transformational leadership that embraces supposedly unachievable challenges and then rises above them – in order to obviate the unintended and unimaginable consequences of an ice-free North Pole.

Dr. Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are: The Incomparable Honeybee and The Insatiable Bark Beetle.

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53 responses

  1. “This is a crucial time in the history of our species. We need transformational leadership that embraces supposedly unachievable challenges and then rises above them…”

    Great article and call for “transformational leadership” Dr. Reese. It’s hardly news that after decades of talk, we humans continue to have a poor track record when it comes to achieving sustainable results. How can we implement change while up against the overwhelming current of business as usual? It will take a new perspective, new approaches and different means of leadership.

    Sustainable Land Development Initiative
    Cracking the Code of Sustainable Development

  2. Climate Change: Mega-Drought or Mega-Rain
    Posted on 18 August 2012 by Sig Silber

    …what we have now is a grand experiment – adding greenhouse gases
    (GHGs) to the atmosphere. We have a good idea of the impact on secular
    temperature trends (and hence evaporation) and some idea about
    precipitation, but with a lot more uncertainty there. What does not
    seem to be well understood is how warming and more water vapor in the
    atmosphere impacts the various climate cycles. Are they unaffected
    (i.e. they are additive to the climate change secular trend)? Are they
    enhanced? Are they dampened? Is their duration changed and is the
    geographical area where they have an impact changed? Is the interaction
    among climate cycles changed?

    On a worldwide basis, it can be dry in some places and wet in other
    places. Ocean evaporation does not stop. When air temperatures are
    warmer, you get more ocean evaporation and it can’t all just “stay up
    there”. If you read the IPCC reports you will notice that they project a
    wetter planet. I think the formula is one degree Centigrade
    translates into a 7% increase in the intensity of extreme precipitation
    events and a 2% increase in average precipitation. That does
    not tell us about the distribution of precipitation over a year or the
    distribution of distribution over the planet; But there will be more
    precipitation on a global basis – and more evaporation. So net water
    availability is a big issue.

    Those who have an interest in this topic might have some fun playing around with this –

    …I do not believe that sustainability is programmed into the genetic
    structure of animals. Adaptation is. So it is probably more useful to
    focus on adaptation than bemoan the shortsightedness and villainy of
    others. Adaptation can be attempted on an individual basis and by small
    groups. Global sustainability requires large-scale cooperation and is
    unlikely to be achieved, especially if sustainability is defined as
    sustaining the status quo. It is a quaint and perhaps charming concept
    but not very realistic. And of course focusing on achieving
    sustainability delays adaptation.

  3. National Geographic – July 25, 2012
    “Shocking” Greenland Ice Melt: Global Warming or Just Heat Wave?

    Nearly entire sheet surface melted after four days—fastest thaw seen by satellites.

    After just a few days of intense melting this month, nearly the entire of the surface of Greenland’s massive ice sheet had turned to slush, NASA images show—the fastest thaw rate since satellites began keeping score 30 years ago.

    It may be tempting to link the event to global warming, but scientists say
    such melts might occur every 150 years. If such rapid thaws become
    common, though, they could add to already rising seas, experts say…

  4. NPR – August 22, 2012
    Humans’ Role In Antarctic Ice Melt Is Unclear

    Ten years ago, a piece of ice the size of Rhode Island disintegrated
    and melted in the waters off Antarctica. Two other massive ice shelves
    along the Antarctic Peninsula had suffered similar fates a few years
    before. The events became poster children for the effects of global
    warming. But a new study finds that the story isn’t quite so simple.

    no question that unusually warm air triggered the final demise of these
    huge chunks of ice. But a lingering question is whether these events
    can be attributed to human-induced global warming.

    probe that question, Robert Mulvaney and colleagues at the British
    Antarctic Survey drilled down 364 meters (more than 1,000 feet) and
    collected an ice core that tells the story of heating and cooling along
    the Antarctic Peninsula over the past 50,000 years.

    Mulvaney says the sharp warming trend we’re seeing now is quite unusual but not entirely unique.

    the last 2,000 years there was another period around about the 1500s
    where we also saw a warming about similar to the rate of today,” he
    says, but the temperature cooled again. “And then at about 400 A.D., we
    also saw not quite as great a warming there as well, but then it cooled

    That finding, published in Nature
    magazine, raises an obvious question. Since there’s a history of
    extreme temperature changes in this part of Antarctica, what can we say
    about the cause of the latest strong warming trend?

    still think the jury must be out, whether you can attribute it one way
    or the other. I think this neither proves nor denies that this is a
    human-induced change,” Mulvaney says.

    And that makes this finding interesting not just for scientific reasons, but for political ones.

    a very broad scientific consensus, based on many lines of evidence,
    that human changes to the planet are having a real impact on air
    temperature, sea temperature, droughts and melting ice. But Mulvaney
    knows that his more ambiguous finding is likely to be picked up by
    skeptics who are looking for evidence to argue that natural variability,
    rather than human activities, explain the Earth’s rapid warming. So be

    “I’m a scientist; I’m just being honest and reporting what we see,”
    he says. “I’m not trying to be political here. I’m not trying to either
    prove or disprove human-induced climate change.”

    fact, Mulvaney says when he started studying Antarctica in the 1980s,
    he was skeptical that humans were already affecting the climate and the

    “I think as the years have gone by I’ve
    moved considerably away from that early skeptical stance,” he says. “And
    as I stand here now, you can’t keep going year after year with most of
    the evidence all pointing in the same direction and not come to the
    conclusion that the climate is warming.”

    Antarctica expert, Eugene Domack from Hamilton College, says it is hard
    to distinguish natural cycles from human-caused trends in something as
    dynamic as ice. But he says these changes in Antarctica are mirrored
    with similar changes now in ice-sheet disintegration in the Canadian

    “That tells you something is up
    that’s more widespread than a local phenomenon,” Domack says, adding
    that global changes are more likely due to human activity.
    question is obviously important because melting ice has historically
    raised and lowered sea levels dramatically. So knowing its fate matters a
    lot to the hundreds of millions of people who live near the coast.

  5. UPDATE:

    Following the new record low recorded on August 26,
    Arctic sea ice extent continued to drop and is now below 4.00 million
    square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). Compared to September
    conditions in the 1980s and 1990s, this represents a 45% reduction in
    the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice. At least one more week likely
    remains in the melt season…

  6. Chasing Ice: Movie Trailer –

    National Geographic photographer James Balog traveled to the Arctic to capture a landscape under threat. Despite a scientific upbringing, Balog had been skeptical of climate change – until his experience in the Arctic. Due out in November of 2012, this Sundance Award-winning film Chasing Ice is the story of Balog’s new-found mission to “change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet.”

  7. It’s really depressing when you consider how many Americans believe that smokestacks and tail emissions are part of an ecosystem rather than man-made anomalies causing imbalance of that ecosystem. I hope that there is enough prowess on the part of scientists and people like Richard Branson to act in slowing/stopping warming without needing the uneducated multitudes so prevalent in the USA.

  8. UPDATE:

    Record Arctic Sea-ice minimum 2012 declared
    September 23, 2012 –

    …With Arctic sea-ice having reached a record low extent, area and volume, several weeks ahead of the usual end-of-melt date, the Blogosphere has been ablaze with lengthy discussions of this event and its potential and worrisome ramifications…

  9. Chasing Ice movie reveals largest iceberg break-up ever filmed
    Published on Dec 12, 2012

    Acclaimed National Geographic photographer James Balog was once a skeptic about climate change. But through his Extreme Ice Survey, he discovers undeniable evidence of our changing planet. In Chasing Ice, Balog deploys revolutionary time-lapse cameras to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and captureancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. Traveling with a team of young adventurers across the brutal Arctic, Balog risks his career and his well-being in pursuit of the biggest story facing humanity. As the debate polarizes America, and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up globally, Chasing Ice depicts a heroic photojournalist on a mission to deliver fragile hope to our carbon-powered planet…

  10. Nature’s Golden Elixir: Honey Feels Wrath of Climate Disruption
    Posted: 02/16/2013
    By Dr. Reese Halter

    ….We are running out of time to combat more than 85 million metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted daily: Earth’s bees are clearly showing scientists that they cannot conduct their business of pollinating and making honey — as climate disruption escalates, quickly.

    It’s time to embrace efficiency and innovation, and the dictum of the London School of Economics co-founder George Bernard Shaw: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

  11. NY Times
    Published: May 10, 2013

    The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years. Scientific instruments showed that the gas had reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering….

  12. Scientists: Arctic sea ice to shrink to record low this summer
    June 21, 2013

    In a sign of continued global warming, the Arctic sea ice this summer will shrink to a new low, 5 percent smaller than the previous minimum of last summer, scientists in Japan said….

    Rare June Atmospheric River Heading for West Coast
    Published: Jun 23, 2013

    An image provided by the National Weather Service in Sacramento shows that one forecast model is depicting the highest levels of atmospheric moisture for late June in the last 30 years for a part of northern California….

  13. Plant matters: Is photosynthesis the best defense against climate change?
    18 Jul 2013 By Mark Hertsgaard

    “The world experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes during the 2001-2010 decade,” declares a new report from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, which added that the decade was “the warmest since the start of modern measurements in 1850.”

    ….We need a new paradigm: If humanity is to avoid a future in which the deadly heat waves, floods, and droughts of recent years become normal, we must lower the existing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. To be sure, reducing additional annual emissions and adapting to climate change must remain vital priorities, but the extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has now become an urgent necessity. Under this new paradigm, one of the most promising means of extracting atmospheric carbon dioxide is also one of the most common processes on Earth: photosynthesis….

  14. American Geophysical Union Releases Revised Position Statement on Climate Change
    Statement Highlights How Human Activities Are Changing Earth’s Climate and the Harmful Impact of that Change on Society
    5 August 2013
    AGU Release No. 13-38

    Like butter: Study explains surprising acceleration of Greenland’s inland ice
    16 July 2013
    AGU Release No. 13-35

  15. Yale Forum Video
    No Slowdown in Global Warming
    Sept 4th, 2013

    It’s called “global warming” for a reason, and one of the principal reasons is that climate change takes into account not only the approximately 29 percent of the Earth’s surface that consists of land, our continents, but also the 71 percent comprised of oceans….

  16. Grist
    Sorry, skeptics: Arctic ice is still melting quickly this summer
    By John Upton

    First the good news: Arctic ice melt has not been as extreme this summer as during last year’s historic collapse.

    The bad news is that the melt has been more extreme this summer than the 20-year average — no surprises there, given the icy clime’s rapid decline….

  17. Arctic News blog: Abrupt Climate Change

    That post in turn led me to this film which, IMHO, is a must watch:

    Last Hours

    Also available is a free e-book:

    I first became aware of the mass extinction scenario when I read the book
    “Under a Green Sky” by paleontologist Peter Ward (who is featured in
    the film). Since that time a new meme has appeared in the blogosphere
    that goes by the name “NTE” which is shorthand for Near Term (Human)

    Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

  18. Arctic warming and wacky jetstream ruins European summer
    by Gareth on October 31, 2013

    The dramatic loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic has prompted a lot of research interest in the way that this is affecting weather patterns around the northern hemisphere. The latest contribution is Influence of Arctic sea ice on European summer precipitation, by Dr James Screen of the University of Exeter [PhysOrg].In this “video abstract”, he explains how reductions in Arctic sea ice affect the position of jetstream — the ribbon of winds winding around the planet that guides weather systems — bringing more summer storms to Western Europe, and a recent run of record-setting wet summers to the UK….

  19. Exploring the impacts of climate change
    By Eric Larsen

    I am a polar explorer. It’s not a job you’ll find listed on Monster or any other help wanted
    ad, but it’s a good conversation starter so I keep it on my business card…. Having completed more polar expeditions than any American in history, I have a keen sense of
    climate change and its effects on these areas. Last year, while attempting to bicycle to the South Pole, temperatures were so warm that I pedaled for part of one day wearing only a T-shirt. The signs are clear: warmer weather, unusual weather patterns, shifting seasons, and in the Arctic, a drastically changing ice cap….

  20. Earth’s New Normal: Wild Weather 2014
    Dr. Reese Halter

    As humans ramp-up the destruction of nature in Australia, Canada, Indonesia and elsewhere to feed the insatiable coal and petroleum markets in China, India and the U.S. the amount of melting ice at both poles continues to erode at an astounding rate.

    In the Northern Hemisphere less Arctic ice cover in September means that a warming Arctic Ocean is easily able to infuse its latent heat into the Arctic atmosphere. As this occurs an all-hell-break-loose scenario is felt elsewhere – particularly on the eastern half on the North American continent and in the U.K….

  21. International Business Times
    Greenland Ice Melt ‘Accelerating,’ Climate Change Awakens ‘Sleeping Giant’
    By Philip Ross – March 16, 2014

    Scientists have known for decades that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting, but they may have underestimated just how much water the second-largest ice sheet on the planet is shedding. New research indicates that a key section of northeast Greenland thought to be stable is actually dumping billions of tons of water into the ocean annually after a barrier of ice debris that had blocked its flow finally gave way….

  22. Real Climate
    Faking It
    gavin @ 30 April 2014

    Every so often contrarians post old newspaper quotes with the implication that nothing being talked about now is unprecedented or even unusual. And frankly, there are lots of old articles that get things wrong, are sensationalist or made predictions without a solid basis… However, there are plenty of science articles that are just interesting, reporting events and explorations in the Arctic and elsewhere that give a fascinating view into how early scientists were coming to an understanding about climate change and processes. In particular, in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic the summer of 1922 was (for the time) quite warm, and there were a number of reports that discussed some unprecedented (again, for the time) observations of open water. The most detailed report was in the Monthly Weather Review – See more at:

  23. The Guardian
    Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away
    Robin McKie, science editor, in Miami
    Friday 11 July 2014

    Low-lying south Florida, at the front line of climate change in the US, will be swallowed as sea levels rise. Astonishingly, the population is growing, house prices are rising and building goes on. The problem is the city is run by climate change deniers…

  24. SLATE
    The Arctic Sea Ice Melt Season Is Getting Longer
    By Phil Plait

    A new study by NASA the National Snow and Ice Data Center indicates that the Arctic
    “melt season”—the time of the year when temperatures are warm enough for ice to melt—is getting longer all the time. There’s a lot of variation from season to season, but the overall trend is clear: The melting season has been increasing about five days every decade since 1979….

  25. Market Watch Opinion:10 self-destructive reasons Americans ignore climate change
    Published: Oct 1, 2014
    By Paul B. Farrell

    The big takeaways here … The American brain is programmed to ignore and reject global warming … humans are sleepwalking, will be unprepared for future disasters … only 24% see climate as a problem … even the world’s leading brain researcher is pessimistic … sees “no path for success” because the human brain is undermining future
    planning and policies. But why?…,%207:09%20PM

  26. Washington Post
    There’s growing evidence that global warming is driving crazy winters
    By Chris Mooney November 20, 2014

    Back in 2012, two researchers with a particular interest in the Arctic, Rutgers’ Jennifer Francis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Stephen Vavrus, published a paper
    called “Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes.” In it, they suggested that the fact that the Arctic is warming so rapidly is leading to an unexpected but profound effect on the weather where the vast majority of us live — a change that, if their theory is correct, may have something to do with the extreme winter weather the U.S. has seen lately…

    1. Years ago scientist James Lovelock explained seemingly conflicting record cold temperatures and arctic sea ice melting events by conducting a simple experiment to prove that melting ice releases cold air that can temporarily mask overall warming. This is the same scientific principle that cools a human body through evaporation of perspiration.

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