Less Arctic Ice–>Less Sunlight Reflected Back–>Even Less Arctic Ice

 Daily Arctic sea ice volume in thousands of cubic kilometers 1979-Aug 2012: Photo by ironpoison via Flickr. Graph modeled ice volume data from the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington

Daily Arctic sea ice volume in thousands of cubic kilometers 1979-Aug 2012: Photo of melting ice by ironpoison via Flickr. Graph modeled ice volume data from the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington. Mashup: Julia Whitty

The seventh annual Arctic Report Card released by NOAA finds the rapid melting underway in northern lands and waters is unlikely to diminish in the face of continued global warming. The single biggest finding: Despite fewer weird warm spells in the Arctic in 2012, compared to the past ten warm years, snow and ice extent continued to melt at a record-breaking pace.

Ominously a new mechanism seems to be driving these changes. Disappearing ice and snow no longer reflect as much sunlight from the Earth. Meanwhile increasingly open waters and snow-free lands absorb more sunlight. This creates a self-reinforcing cycle of continued melting even during cooler times. It bodes poorly for recovery or stability in the far north.

No one is more amazed at the staggering rate of change than the scientists observing it. Bob Pickart, a physical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and co-author of the Report Card (also principle investigator of the icebreaker cruise I tagged along on in the Arctic Ocean in October: see my Arctic Ocean Diaries)—tells me:

It is mind-boggling how quickly the Arctic system is changing and how unstable it appears to be. It is clear that there are strong, disturbing trends, but it is also evident how complex the system is and hence how hard it is to predict what all the consequences will be. In some ways I feel that the scientific community simply can’t respond quickly enough to sort all these issues out. 

Jeremy Mathis, a chemical oceanographer at University of Alaska Fairbanks, and also principle investigator on the Arctic Ocean cruise I joined in October, tells me:

The 2012 Arctic Report Card is another stark reminder of how quickly the Arctic is charging. Sea ice extent is diminishing in summer at an unprecedented rate and we do not yet understand the biological consequences for other stressors such as ocean acidification. While there is no base-line left to study in the Arctic we should increase our efforts to monitor and anticipate how the rapid changes we our observing today will impact high latitude ecosystems and the charismatic megafauna that they support.

 Global warming is ampliified in the Arctic, where in the past decade no part of it was cooler than the long-term average:  NOAA climate.gov team

Global warming is amplified in the Arctic, where no part of was cooler than the long-term average in the past decade: NOAA climate.gov teamStay tuned. I’ll be writing more in-depth about other changes in NOAA’s Arctic Report Card in the coming days.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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