Picture the Arctic and you’re probably imagining vast expanses of pure, white ice or enormous cliffs of jagged glaciers surrounded by icy waters. However, the ice sheets of the Arctic are melting so quickly and in such large amounts that maps of the world must reflect these momentous changes.
Atlas of the World makers National Geographic announced last year that there would be major changes made to the 10th edition of its map. In his announcement of plans to fight global warming, President Obama referred to these changes in a speech given at the White House. “Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart,” Obama said.
Together with cartographer Rosemary Wardley, Juan José Valdés, Director of Editorial and Cartographic Research at National Geographic, created a new, altered map of the Arctic using NASA’s 30-year-long study of the Arctic ice and recorded information from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
“Compared to previous editions of the atlas, the change in sea ice coverage, that graphic portrayal, that white polygon has significantly changed over time,” Valdés said, speaking in the video from National Geographic below. “And in the tenth edition of this, you’ll see a significant reduction in area covered by ice.”
Although the Arctic ice sheet has been receding every decade since the 1970s, this was the first time the National Geographic has had to expansively remap the region since the first comprehensive map released in 1989.
Each edition of the map from National Geographic has never been a definitive portrayal of the Arctic as seasonal changes continually affect the condition of the ice.
“The maximum extent of sea ice will fluctuate annually with the seasons. It generally decreases in the summer and it increases in the winter and so [it's] the maximum that we show,” said Rosemary Wardley. “It usually occurs sometime around March. Multi-year ice is ice that has been frozen for up to two summers. And that is generally more stable and doesn’t change as much. But the studies have shown that it has been steadily decreasing over the past decade.”
These map changes are a harsh reminder of the effects of climate change on our planet. As Valdés noted, "Until you have a hard-copy map in your hand, the message doesn't really hit home."
[H/T: National Geographic]