There is no sea ice in some Alaskan parts for the first time this summer after the record temperatures and wildfires hit the region. The event occurred in this part of the year for the very first time with ramifications for the arctic climate and the whole Earth.
This August levels of Arctic sea ice has been the lowest ever in comparison to all other recorded years of research, as per Mark Serreze, the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center ( NSIDC).
“Basically, if you look at Point Barrow — the northernmost point of Alaska — there’s probably no sea ice within 300 to 350 miles right now,” says Serreze. Historically, during this period of the year, ice found close to Alaska or along its coast, which is now hundreds of miles away, according to him.
Sea ice works as an indicator of other climate issues, according to Serreze. “So what we’re seeing is that because the sea is disappearing is very much in agreement with the fact that everything is warming up in the Arctic,” he said. “The atmosphere is warming. The oceans are warming. The sea ice is getting hit by both sides [of climate change.]”
Many think that melting ice affects the sea levels, which is not true, Zachary Labe, a Ph. D candidate at the University of California, Irvine, who studies climate science, says. The loss of sea ice doesn’t have any role in raising the sea level. The frozen freshwater land ice that causes rising of sea levels is mostly present in Greenland. The sea ice in Alaska affects the temperature of the Earth. “We care about sea ice is because it acts as something called ‘albedo’ — which means reflectivity,” said Labe.
Historically, the sea ice that remained frozen whole summer helped to keep the temperature of the Earth lower. “The sunlight reflected off the sea ice helping to bounce back the solar radiation helping to keep it a bit cooler,” said Labe.
The role of sea ice in cooling the Earth is called a positive feedback loop. Due to melting, sea ice cannot reflect the amount of sunlight it used to reflect before. “If we lose the sea ice cover because it’s getting warmer, than there’s less of an area that is this reflective surface. That means more of the sun’s energy is absorbed, and that makes it even warmer,” says Serreze.
The phenomena of climate change make the Arctic especially vulnerable, besides affecting the entire planet. “The Arctic is warming up very strongly. It even has a name — it’s called Arctic amplification,” said Serreze. “Over the past couple of decades the Arctic is warming up at roughly twice the rate as the globe as a whole. ”
In Alaska, it is particularly true as Serreze described the region as “ground zero” for climate change.
The melting ice has been impacting Alaskans, especially the indigenous populations, and their way of life has also been altered by the changing environment, particularly communities that are dependent on the sea ice for hunting. “Walrus has been a big problem this year and there’s been very few days this year where the ice was sturdy enough for indigenous communities to even get onto the sea ice during the winter and spring,” says Labe.
The melting ice affected the Alaskans most dramatically and also the rest of the world in some way. The permafrost in Arctic regions will probably melt as melting ice results in increased temperatures, adding to atmospheric carbon dioxide, explains Serreze.
Still, Serreze and Labe do not think that we have reached the ultimate point of no return in the region despite every negative implication of the changing arctic.
“I think it’s probably inevitable that we’re going to move to a seasonally ice free arctic ocean,” says Serreze. “But we can reverse that. But we’ve got to reverse greenhouse gas emissions. There’s no way around that.”
According to Labe, the computer simulations run by scientists have shown that the sea ice can recover for being very resilient. “So I think that any action that we do, now going into the future can only help prevent the amount of future sea ice that we lose.”