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Climate change: Accelerated melting of Arctic, Antarctic sea perilous to Earth

scientists walk along melting Arctic sea ice
scientists walk along melting Arctic sea ice
Scientific American

Climate change has been on center stage recently with Secretary of State John Kerry likening the global danger to weapons of mass destruction, a Nebraska Judge’s ruling that blocked progress on the Keystone XL pipeline and President Barack Obama’s recent statements about the subject to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Furthermore, a report from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds that January was the fourth warmest on record globally.

Unseasonably warm air continues to disrupt the jet stream, resulting in extreme cold weather in places and hotter weather in others, with Alaska experiencing one of its warmest on record.

"We see more evidence that we will continue to have cold air outbreaks as the climate continues to warm," said Deke Arndt, a scientist with the National Climatic Data Center as quoted in The Hill. "Cold air outbreaks, like the type we saw in January, over time, have become statistically more uncommon."

The warming has caused melting Arctic and Antarctic sea ice to accelerate in recent years, bringing scientists to the fear that summer Arctic ice may disappear altogether in just a few decades.

According to a National Snow and Ice Center report, sea ice already in 2014 is "declining at a rate of 3.2% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2012 average, or at a rate of 47,800 square kilometers (18,500 square miles) per year. January 2014 is the fourth lowest extent in the satellite record, behind 2005, 2006, and the record low January 2011."

People may wonder why it should matter to their lives when ice is melting thousands of miles away, but changes in the atmosphere and the jet stream impact global regions everywhere causing extreme weather disruptions worldwide.

Sea ice acts as the planet’s cooling system, but once it starts melting at the current degree it amplifies its own demise and fuels global warming.

Writing in Scientific American, Dr. Ramez Naam, explained it this way:

“Here’s how: Ice and snow reflect light. Thick ice covered with snow will reflect the large majority of the sun’s energy back into space, absorbing only 10 to 20% of the sunlight as heat. Ocean water, on the other hand, reflects very little of the sun’s energy back into space, absorbing more than 90% of it as heat.”

Naam points to the following causes for disappearing sea ice, which he calls the “triple whammy”:

  1. Warming from the greenhouse gases we emit already.
  2. Warming from the loss of ice and permafrost in the Arctic, and the exposure of dark water and dark land below.
  3. Warming from the release of more carbon into the atmosphere as the permafrost and the Arctic sea floor methane begin to go.

Meanwhile, climate deniers and ultra-conservative politicians continue their campaign of ignorance on how a warming atmosphere can significantly alter weather systems, bringing extreme hot and extreme cold.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) mocked Obama’s commitment to combat climate change.

"Snow on the grd in 49 of 50 states and POTUS thinks global warming shld be an urgent priority," Cornyn wrote on Twitter.

Nonetheless, here is what Obama had to say about climate change in his speech during this week’s meeting with the president of Mexico and Prime Minister of Canada:

"It (climate change) has the potential of displacing people in ways that we cannot currently fully anticipate and will be extraordinarily costly. So I welcome the work that we can do together with Canada."

While the president said he wants to promote economic sustainability, it must be balanced by transitioning away from fossil fuels; a stand being adamantly resisted by oil corporations and the petroleum industry.

"We only have one planet," Obama said, adding "we do have to point to the future."

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