By Frank Saverino
The sea ice that coats the shallow waters of the Arctic Ocean is rapidly thinning, and today its thickness is averaging half of what its measurement was 30 years ago, according to leading expert Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University.
Over the past five years, shrinkage has accelerated in the summer, cracks have exposed large areas of open water to more sunlight and radiation, and the degradation of sea ice in the summer has exceeded the rate of growth in the winter. Wadhams has predicted that in about four or five years’ time, the Arctic Ocean will be completely free of sea ice in the summers. As of September 2013, NASA’s National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which has satellites orbiting the North Pole, observed that the minimum extent of arctic ice for the summer of 2013 is the sixth lowest on record. Sea ice has shrunk to just below two million square miles this year, and this alarming extent has caused scientists like Wadhams and other global warming activists to become more worrisome about the effects that the absence of arctic sea ice will have on climate change.
The continuing diminishment of sea ice and gradual warming of ocean waters have led to the release of methane hydrates embedded in the sea bed, or “permafrost,” of the Antarctic.
“The continental shelves of the Arctic are composed of offshore permafrost, frozen sediment left over from the last ice age,” Wadhams explained in an interview with The Guardian last year. “As the water warms, the permafrost melts and releases huge quantities of trapped methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas, so this will give a big boost to global warming.”
The “upkick” of methane hydrate emissions is expected to intensify as the melting of sea ice accelerates, the melted water mixes into the already warming ocean waters, and the exposed and shallow ocean water absorbs higher levels of radiation from the sun. Overall, temperatures in the Antarctic have begun to rise faster than anywhere else on earth, and the escaping methane hydrate’s molecules, which are approximately 20 times more lethal to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide molecules, will inflict a tremendous cost to our environment.
What is developing in the Arctic Ocean is what David Wasdell of the Apollo-Gaia project calls a “runaway process.” As the sea ice continues to be pushed back, temperatures will go on an incline, and the rate that the ocean warms will become faster because of the feedback of radiation absorbed by both melting ice and methane hydrate release.
As the open water in the Arctic expands, it is more prone to storms and sporadic weather that can blend and mix more warm water down to the sea bed.
Wedhams decrees the projected loss of sea ice a “disaster,” and he emphasizes that rising sea levels and the growing temperatures in the Artic coupled with the general warming of our climate due to carbon-based emissions could affect the agricultural capacities of our earth.