Thursday, August 18, 2016

John Vidal - Time to listen to the ice scientists about the Arctic death spiral

The Arctic’s ice is disappearing. We must reduce emissions, fast, or the human catastrophe predicted by ocean scientist Peter Wadhams will become reality

Ice scientists are mostly cheerful and pragmatic. Like many other researchers coolly observing the rapid warming of the world, they share a gallows humour and are cautious about entering the political fray. Not Peter Wadhams. The former director of the Scott Polar Research Institute and professor of ocean physics at Cambridge has spent his scientific life researching the ice world, or the cryosphere, and in just 30 years has seen unimaginable change.

When in 1970 he joined the first of what would be more than 50 polar expeditions, the Arctic sea ice covered around 8m sq km at its September minimum. Today, it hovers at around 3.4m, and is declining by 13% a decade. In 30 years Wadhams has seen the Arctic ice thin by 40%, the world change colour at its top and bottom and the ice disappear in front of his eyes.

In a new book, published just as July 2016 is confirmed by Nasa as the hottest month ever recorded, this most experienced and rational scientist states what so many other researchers privately fear but cannot publicly say – that the Arctic is approaching a death spiral which may see the entire remaining summer ice cover collapse in the near future. 

The warming now being widely experienced worldwide is concentrated in the polar regions and Wadhams says we will shortly have ice-free Arctic Septembers, expanding to four or five months with no ice at all. The inevitable result, he predicts, will be the release of huge plumes of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, accelerating warming even further.

He and other polar experts have moved from being field researchers to being climate change pioneers in the vanguard of the most rapid and drastic change that has taken place on the planet in many thousands of years. This is not just an interesting change happening in a remote part of the world, he says, but a catastrophe for mankind.

“We are taking away the beautiful world of Arctic Ocean sea ice which once protected us from the impacts of climate extremes. We have created an ocean where there was once an ice sheet. It is man’s first major achievement in re-shaping the face of the planet,” he writes. And, boy, are we seeing extremes. So far this year, the planet’s average temperature has been 1.3C warmer than the late 19th century, and 2016 is virtually certain be the hottest year ever recorded... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/18/ice-scientists-arctic-ice-disappearing-reduce-emissions-peter-wadhams