30 Years of Lost Sea Ice in Arctic is Equivalent to a Dozen United Kingdoms

A new climate era is here.

If you wanted more proof of climate change (Really? More proof? Really?) then this picture should shut you up for good.

This month, the sea ice around the Arctic shrank to its lowest extent since records began, beating the previous record-breaking minimum (in 2007) by a truly worrying extent.

Every year the ice at the top of our world spreads and withdraws in a largely predictable way according to the seasons and influenced by all sorts of factors including sea currents, wind patterns and, of course, temperature. In 2007 the summertime extent of sea ice reached a new minimum of 4.17 million km2. On the 26th of August this year the ice again shrank down to this level – and kept going. On the 16th of September the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado recorded arctic ice coverage at 3.41 million km2 – the lowest since records began. (The yellow line denotes the extent of the average minimum over the last 30 years).

It’s difficult to grasp the scale of this but picture about a dozen United Kingdoms lined up side by side: that’s how much more sea ice has vanished beyond the average amount left at the end the summer over the past 30 years.

 – David Shukman, Science Editor, BBC News

So what’s going on here, since Antarctic sea ice levels are remaining relatively stable? Simple – it seems that arctic ice is proving a reliable gauge of the way our planet is warming up, while the Antarctic is proving slower to respond. And what will happen next? Nobody can say for sure, although it seems likely that atmospheric disruptions will follow, along the lines of the jet stream displacement that has been causing unusually poor weather across Northern Europe all summer and gave the UK its wettest June for over a century.  It also seems like that so-called “extreme weather” events become more commonplace.

Our northern ice-cap, a permanent feature for all of human history, could be well on the way to becoming a seasonal feature – and our world is visibly changing. Welcome to a new climate era.

Image: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio, via New Scientist.

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.