Recent satellite images taken by NASA have revealed some alarming developments in the Arctic, two ice caps in Nunavut, Canada, have completely melted away. The St Patrick Bay ice caps had been rapidly shrinking for several decades, and were notably absent from photographs taken by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on July 14.
Located on the Hazen Plateau of Ellesmere Island, the St Patrick Bay ice caps were the subject of a study in the journal The Cryosphere back in 2017, which highlighted the rapid rate at which they were shrinking. The study compared vertical aerial photographs of the ice caps taken over a 60-year period, revealing how they covered an area of 7.48 square kilometers (2.8 square miles) and 2.93 square kilometers (1.1 square miles) respectively back in 1959. By 2015, however, they had each shrunk to just 5 percent of this size.
National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) director Mark Serreze, who authored the paper, predicted that the ice caps could disappear altogether within five years, and the latest satellite images confirm the accuracy of this grim forecast.
“We've long known that as climate change takes hold, the effects would be especially pronounced in the Arctic,” said Serreze in a statement.
“When I first visited those ice caps, they seemed like such a permanent fixture of the landscape. To watch them die in less than 40 years just blows me away.”
The disappearance of the St Patrick Bay ice caps is due to increasing global temperatures, which is largely being driven by human-induced climate change. It's well documented that the Arctic is melting twice as fast as the rest of the world. Between 2000 and 2015, average temperatures in Ellesmere Island increased by 1°C, and it is believed that a significant proportion of the recent melting occurred during the particularly warm summer of 2015.
Scientists are now concerned that the Murray and Simmons ice caps, which are also located on the Hazen Plateau, could soon suffer a similar fate. Because they sit at a higher altitude than St Patrick Bay, these two ice caps have been melting at a slower rate, yet if temperatures in the Arctic continue to rise then these and many other ice caps could soon disappear altogether.