Arctic Ice Has Shrunk to Record Low

New satellite images have shown that Arctic sea ice has shrunk to the smallest size on record, down to 1 million square miles from 1.5 million square miles in 2005.

This dramatic shrinkage, along with over 200 satellite images showing an ice-free passage this month along Canada, Alaska, and Greenland, has not gone unnoticed. Speculation has started that a fabled Northwest Passage may become reality if the Arctic Sea ice goes – a passage from Europe to Asia that would cut thousands of miles off the current trip shippers have to take through the Panama Canal. A short shipping window during the summer has already opened.

And Canada, United States, Denmark, and Russia are beginning to lay claim to the waters exposed as the ice melts. These areas are of particular interest because a United States study estimates that significant oil and gas reserves might be present in the area.

Some recent articles imply the melting of the Arctic icecap might be a good thing. I’ve been surprised that these stories haven’t been clearer on the disastrous implications of losing the polar regions. The Arctic icecap is one of our planet’s key cooling mechanisms. As sunlight hits the highly reflective ice, about 90% is reflected back into the atmosphere. As the reflective ice melts, it is replaced by darker water and land that absorbs about 80% of the sunlight hitting it. This is a dangerous feedback loop that scientists warn us will accelerate climate change if it’s not stopped, and may take us to a place from which we are not likely to return.

I think it’s irresponsible to our children and grandchildren to be grasping at new petroleum reserves at a time when we need to be reducing our carbon emissions and steering our country and our planet toward a new energy future. What do you think?

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Published: September 20, 2007