8 Facts You Should Know about the Polar Ice Caps Melting

Our weather is becoming more unstable and dangerous. From the hurricane that broke the levees in New Orleans to the disastrous drought in California, many of us wonder what we can do. While there have been some alarming reports about the polar ice caps melting that proved to be very unscientific and dead wrong, this does not negate the subtle changes that have actually taken place.

It’s impossible to ignore our effect on polar ice caps even if nature takes part in the process as well. Here are eight important facts that everyone should know about our polar ice caps melting from confirmed recent scientific studies and data.

polar ice caps melting and a polar bear jumping from one to another

Polar Ice Caps Melting – 8 Things to Remember

The Global Temperature Really Has Increased

The earth’s atmosphere varies naturally and has been both much warmer and much cooler over the millennia. Right now, we have been living in a much cooler time. This cooler time is what we are adapted to, though, and a sudden change in that could cause great damage to humanity and other life that is evolved for this environment. According to NASA, “The global average surface temperature rose 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.1 to 1.6° F) between 1906 and 2005, and the rate of temperature increase has nearly doubled in the last 50 years.”

Greenhouse Gasses Really Are Increasing

Greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane result from our industrial activities as well as many other natural factors. Some do argue rightly that these gasses are released in larger quantities by natural activity because they are produced and reabsorbed by our biosphere. Since the industrial revolution, however, humans have been tipping that delicate natural balance. According to NASA, “since…about 1750, carbon dioxide levels have increased nearly 38 percent as of 2009 and methane levels have increased 148 percent.”

The Antarctic Is Not Currently Contributing To Sea Level Rise

Certain parts of the Antarctic ice shelf are currently melting, but this melting is outweighed by new ice accumulation elsewhere. In fact, the most recent study from NASA found that “Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away.” Of course, that means that NASA is still trying to figure out where exactly the sea level rise of 0.27 millimeters per year is coming from.

Antarctic Ice Gains Are Not Making Up For Arctic Ice Losses

ice caps on the surface of the water at dusk

Antarctic ice levels may be at a new maximum, but we are still losing ice from the Arctic polar ice caps melting at an astounding rate. Clair Parkinson, a scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has confirmed that “the decreases in Arctic sea ice far exceed the increases in Antarctic sea ice.”

The Sea Has Been Losing 13,500 Square Miles of Ice Per Year

This rate of polar ice caps melting has been being measured since 1979. During the first half of the period, this rate of loss was 8,300 square miles. It has now doubled in the last half of this measurement period to 19,500 square miles per year. This is about the size of the state of Maryland. Parkinson says there is a limit to this increase, of course. After all, “once all the Arctic ice is gone in the summer, the Arctic summertime ice loss can’t accelerate any further.”

But what would it look like if all of our ice melted, even if just during the summer? This wouldn’t happen unless there was a more severe global warming greenhouse event because when it’s summer on one pole, it’s winter on the other. Still, it’s interesting to contemplate just how much our sea level would rise in such a situation.

If All of Our Ice Melted, Our Sea Would Rise 216 Feet

What would the earth look like with our polar ice caps melting completely? Wet. National Geographic has actually made a graphic to show would the world would look like if this happened. Florida? Gone. In fact, the song “Dear Miami” is about just this. The complete loss of this state to global warming caused by our lavish lifestyle.

Why Is Sea Ice So Important?

According to National Geographic’s map, yes, Florida would be swamped out. We’d lose a lot of coastal cities, but would it really be the end of the world? After all, we’d still retain most of our land masses and we could just move inland… Right? No. Sea ice is important because it’s highly reflective. This means that it reflects excess radiation from the sun back into space and keeps our planet from overheating – not in the little way that it has been, but in a big way. A very dangerous way.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, sea ice reflects 80 percent of the sunlight that hits it, whereas the dark ocean water absorbs 90 percent of the sunlight that shines on it. That is quite a serious trade off. This is also a clear explanation for why the rate of the arctic polar ice caps melting doubled over the past few years. As ocean temperatures increase from this changing dynamic, we could face some very extreme climate change. It will make the past two decades look like a cake walk.

What Happens As Ocean Temperatures Increase

It’s a basic rule of physics that warmer water holds less oxygen. The surface level of the ocean is heating much faster than the lower levels, and in the surface, oxygen is depleting at an alarming rate. In fact, oxygen levels are predicted to decrease even further–about 3% to 6% over then next century. The result is hypoxic and suboxic areas in the ocean that are incapable of supporting life. This includes surface plankton – the surface plankton that provides much of our atmospheric oxygen and the lowest level of the food chain in the ocean.

Final Thoughts

While it’s true that we’re facing environmental challenges, we can all do our part to ensure that we do not add to the damage. Our adaptable earth has been here for five billion years and it will be here for five billion more without us. However, lessening our greenhouse gas output and reducing pollutants will do more than just prevent our polar ice caps melting. It will ensure that our environment is free of toxins that harm wildlife and humans. We can learn to live healthier, more natural lifestyles. It’s a win-win for everyone. Do share your tips for lowering carbon footprints below.


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