June 12, 2013

Arctic Sea Ice Visualisations

Arctic sea ice is melting apace, and will soon leave a watery expanse where the earth used to show a white-capped north pole. The diminishing of sea ice at the polar region is already altering the jet stream and making extreme weather events more extreme and of longer duration. There is worrisome evidence of the spread of disease as temperatures are rising around the north pole.

The movie "Chasing Ice" gives a glimpse of the enormity of the melting of the vast Greenland ice sheet. When that ice sheet releases ice into the sea in the process of calving, it does so in chunks the size of Manhattan - only quite a bit taller. The scale of that ice sheet is hard to comprehend.

But the area covered (still, so far) by arctic sea ice is even larger than Greenland. And it looks like all that is melting away as well, at an ever increasing rate since the 1980s.

Andy Lee Robinson, who is at that rare cross-roads between geeky techno-savvy and highly creative artistic talent, has made a movie that shows the total volume of arctic ice as the years go by: basically we're witnessing the melting of a gigantic ice cube.

The graph shows all the data; but it doesn't hit you in the gut like the movie does. Make sure to have sound on.

Arctic Sea Ice minimum volume 1979-2012. (31 secs)

The volume of arctic sea ice is at its smallest in September, when it's been reduced by melting all summer. Of course it is replenished every winter by snow fall and freezing temperatures, but as the film below (also by Robinson) shows, in the past 25 years or so the melting has overwhelmed the replenishing, to the point that perhaps 2013 will be the first year that the Arctic will be ice-free.

Arctic Death Spiral. (46 secs)

Here is the static two-dimensional chart of that melting: the centre of the spiral is where no ice is left; we're getting close.

What to do about it?
Leave your car in its parking spot as much as you possibly can. When the time comes, replace it with a gas sipper (better yet, arrange your life so you don't need a car). Go without air conditioning in summer, turn down the thermostat in winter. Because there are so many of us, every little bit that each of us does, really makes a difference.

Just to be clear: this is not only about the polar bear.

Photo by Nicolas Liuzzi via Flickr



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