The Incredible Shrinking Arctic Sea Ice

News of the Arctic’s ice loss is mentioned so often it can be a little ho-hum; but this image drives home just how massive it is.
Arctic sea ice extent has continued to drop and is now below 4 million square kilometres (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. 
This image shows the average extent of Arctic sea ice in the summer between 1979 and 2000 (September) and where things are at now.

Image source: National Snow and Ice Data Center via BBC

This isn’t a one-off type of event. Since 2000, the Arctic has been losing an increasing amount of ice over summer and what ice remains is thinner on average.

Why does this matter?

For many of us, the Arctic is a very long way away – but the impact of these events could be massive. Aside from local effects, this is a major change to an ecosystem that helps regulate weather around the world, but particularly in Europe. It could alter the path of the jet stream; which is the high-altitude wind that guides weather systems; affecting Europe and beyond.
A professor once ridiculed for claiming a substantial thinning of Arctic sea ice was occurring has recently warned Arctic summer sea ice cover is now at the point of collapse – and could totally disappear by 2015; a situation that wasn’t predicted to occur until very late this century.

The situation is such that it has caught many climate scientists off guard, who are now scrambling to understand the implications.

While the old saying states it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, an ice-free Arctic could be a very ill wind indeed. 

At face value, the melting Arctic ice seems to present some positives, such as allowing for shipping shortcuts. In fact, the first sailboat to navigate the Northwest Passage has recently completed the journey without any special reinforcements on the craft – a first.

Aside from the impact on climate, another more sinister aspect is this accessibility will also mean countries will be able to start pillaging the Arctic for its mineral and fossil fuel riches.
George Monbiot probably best summed up the situation; stating:
“Is this how our children will see it: that we destroyed the benign conditions that made our world of wonders possible, and then used the opportunity to amplify the damage? “