Warming world, melting Arctic: business as usual

Rising temperatures are having a dramatic effect on global weather and sea ice. So why is there so little news coverage?

Arctic ice
Data shows that May's Arctic sea ice extent is the lowest ever recorded [NASA]

Last week the Danish Meteorological Institute announced that ice cover across the Arctic Ocean was at its lowest April extent since records began 38 years ago.

Since then the US Nation Snow and Ice Data Center confirmed that May’s ice extent is also the lowest ever recorded.

It is not just over the Arctic Ocean that weather records are being broken. The warm weather has been apparent across much of the landmass within the Arctic Circle. The Barrow Observatory in Alaska, latitude 71.3 degrees north, just 3km from the shores of the Arctic Ocean, became snow-free on May 13. This is the earliest snow-free date in 74 years of record-keeping.

Similar snow and ice melts are taking place across Canada and Russia, causing disruption to road transport as ice routes have melted.

On Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago between Norway and the North Pole, it is a similar story.

 Climate change threatens Svalbard’s 3,000 polar bears

The weather station at Svalbard Airport, 4km from Longyearbyen, has reported above-average temperatures for every month for more than one year. Not just marginally above average either; the most extreme example is February this year, when the average was -5.6C compared with a long-term average of -16.2C.

The massive wildfire, which threatened the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, is still burning across swathes of Alberta and Saskatchewan. There is every possibility that soot from this – and other wildfires across Siberia – could coat the sea ice in black soot. This would reduce its ability to reflect sunlight (albedo), thereby accelerating the rate of melting.

Warming is not confined to the Arctic, of course. Global temperatures are on the rise, and have been for decades, but it is the rate of change that is alarming.

2014 was the warmest year since 1880; 2015 was warmer; now 2016 has been so warm in the first four months that climate scientists are almost certain it will get even warmer, no matter what happens during the rest of the year.

Put simply, extremes are becoming the norm, and they therefore attract less media attention.

READ MORE: A record warm month – and probably a record warm year

Climate change was high on the political agenda at the end of last year as world leaders reached an agreement in Paris to peg future global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Many climate forecast centres predict warming of as much as 3.7C by 2100. As French President Francois Hollande pointed out at the time, a target of 1.5C is the “absolute ceiling” for global temperature rise.

The warning signs of impending disaster are there as every month brings another “worst ever”. How long before voices are raised to make sure the politicians carry out their commitments, and that those measures agreed are actually bringing about the desired result?  

 High arctic melt: Dramatic shortage of winter sea ice

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies