Scientists are extremely concerned that, for the first time in history, the thickest and oldest ice in the Arctic is breaking.
As shown in satellite images from early August, sea ice along the northern shores of Greenland is cracking and being pushed out into the ocean. This ice has been called “the last ice area”, as it was thought it would be the final ice to break as the planet warms, reports The Guardian.
Now the worst fears have been realized as a result of warm winds and a heatwave driven by climate change. Thomas Lavergne, a climate scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, described the development as “scary”.
“Open water off the north coast of Greenland is unusual,” Ruth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute told The Guardian. “This area has often been called ‘the last ice area’ as it has been suggested that the last perennial sea ice in the Arctic will occur here. The events of the last week suggest that, actually, the last ice area may be further west.”
The news means that sea ice in this part of Greenland is thinning as the planet warms, which experts warned could increase the rate of melting across the continent. Historically the Arctic had been largely made of ice that survived multiple seasons, but now it is nearly entirely new ice produced year by year.
Normally the ice in the north of Greenland is compacted together, as it's pushed in by a major Arctic Ocean current called the Transpolar Drift Stream, forming ridges more than 20 meters (65 feet) thick. But warmer weather in February and August has thinned the ice so much that it can now be pushed away from the coast by wind.
One of the major concerns is for polar bears, which rely on this ice to hunt. If the pack ice moves offshore, their hunting grounds will significantly shrink. “You would lose the polar bear habitat," Peter Wadhams from the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University told The Independent.
Earth’s warming climate is causing all sorts of devastating issues for the Arctic. In August last year, a cargo ship was able to cross the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time due to melting sea ice. In February, we reported that the region was experiencing one of its warmest winters on record, with temperatures rising above freezing.
Now one of the region's last vestiges of multi-year ice is melting before our eyes. And the world continues its intolerable march towards a “nightmare scenario" where all of the ice disappears from the Arctic in the next few decades.