Global Warming: The Vanishing North
NOW that summer is here, the Arctic is crowded with life. Phytoplankton are blooming in its chilly seas. Fish, birds and whales are gorging on them. Millions of migratory geese are in their northern breeding grounds. And the area is teeming with scientists, performing a new Arctic ritual.
Between now and early September, when the polar pack ice shrivels to its summer minimum, they will pore over the daily sea ice reports of America’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre. Its satellite data will show that the ice has shrunk far below the long-term average. This is no anomaly: since the 1970s the sea ice has retreated by around 12% each decade. Last year the summer minimum was 4.33m square km (1.67m square miles)—almost half the average for the 1960s.
The Arctic’s glaciers, including those of Greenland’s vast ice cap, are retreating. The land is thawing: the area covered by snow in June is roughly a fifth less than in the 1960s. The permafrost is shrinking. Alien plants, birds, fish and animals are creeping north: Atlantic mackerel, haddock and cod are coming up in Arctic nets. Some Arctic species will probably die out.
Perhaps not since the 19th-century clearance of America’s forests has the world seen such a spectacular environmental change. It is a stunning illustration of global warming, the cause of the melt. It also contains grave warnings of its dangers. The world would be mad to ignore them.