Alaska’s Sea Ice Completely Melted for First Time in Recorded History

The country of Iceland has held a funeral for its first glacier lost to the climate crisis. The once massive Okjökull glacier, now completely gone, has been commemorated with a plaque that reads: “A letter to the future. Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

This reality is reverberating across the globe, far beyond Iceland. Even when no literal funeral is being held, we are, in a sense, witnessing an ongoing funeral for the world we once knew.

July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth since record keeping began in 1880. Nine out of the 10 hottest Julys ever recorded have occurred since 2005, and July was the 43rd consecutive July to register temperatures above the 20th century average.

Also for the first time in recorded history, Alaska’s sea ice has melted completely away. That means there was no sea ice whatsoever within 150 miles of its shores, according to the National Weather Service, as the northernmost state cooked under record-breaking heat through the summer.


recent UN report estimates 2 billion people are already facing moderate to severe food insecurity, due largely to the warming planet. The other contributing factors are conflict and economic stagnation, but extreme weather events and shifting weather patterns are a large and growing contributor to this crisis, which is sure to escalate over time.

Another recent study, titled “Adaptive responses of animals to climate change are most likely insufficient,” showed that many animals are no longer able to adjust quickly enough to the climate crisis. While birds are laying their eggs earlier as temperatures and conditions change, and are doing what they can to coax their chicks to hatch sooner, it is still not enough to keep apace with the dramatically shifting climate. Many more extinctions are on the horizon.

Speaking of, Beluga whales in the Arctic are now clearly in a downward spiral toward their demise, due largely to climate crisis impacts, according to another study. Warming waters, lack of food, and pollution are taking their toll on the embattled whales. Over the past 20 years, their growth rates have been declining, which means their ability to forage for food is now also compromised.

It is interesting to see even mainstream outlets like People Magazine now reporting on climate grief, which the medical community has already been doing for quite some time, and expects to see a dramatic ramping up of climate-disruption-related mental health issues in the future.

In Greenland, residents are already traumatized by climate impacts, as they are coping with the reality that their traditional ways of life are clearly on the way out. Courtney Howard, board president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, told The Guardian that she believes the climate crisis is causing worsening states of mental and physical health around the world, and says these issues will become some of the most important of our time. “Temperature change is magnified in circumpolar regions,” she told The Guardian. “There is no question Arctic people are now showing symptoms of anxiety, ‘ecological grief’ and even post-traumatic stress related to the effects of climate change.”

In the financial realms, a leading economic historian warned recently that the climate crisis could very well become the trigger for the next global financial crisis by way of causing instability and massive disruptions in markets.

Distressingly, a recently published study warned that a new superbug which erupted at the same time on three continents may well have been brought about from warming temperatures. The study pointed out how a drug-resistant fungal disease has now been made more prevalent by existing on a warming planet.

recent report from Canada warned that British Columbia could see “catastrophic” consequences from climate disruption-related events in the next three decades. These include more severe wildfire seasons, increasingly intense and longer heat waves, water shortages, and storm surges across the province.

Speaking of Canada, that country’s Pediatric Society recently warned that children’s health is expected to be increasingly negatively affected by climate-disruption impacts, including things like air pollution and heat stress.


Drought-induced blackouts are now besetting the people of Zimbabwe, where some places are seeing 18 hours per day without electricity. Imagine that in the summer heat. Dams providing hydropower lack water. Power blackouts are spreading.

In Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, the taps have run dry, affecting more than 2 million people, who have been trying to cope with not having access to municipal drinking water.

In India, a stunning 1 million people were displaced and at least 270 killedby severe flooding from heavier than usual monsoon rains.

Back in the U.S., New York City’s summer has served as a preview of things to come, as an extreme heat wave coupled with flash flooding beset the iconic city.

On the other end of the water spectrum, a recent study published in Science Advances warned that megadroughts will likely beset the U.S. Southwest within decades. The study stated that the megadroughts are “almost assured,” and will be on a scale not seen since medieval times.

At the same time, by 2050, another report warned that “snow droughts” will become far more common across the western U.S. This is critical, in that it compounds the aforementioned impending drought crisis, as mountain snowpack is vital to providing water into the spring and summer.

A recent and critically important studyshowed that one quarter of the total global population across 17 countries is already affected by extreme water stress. Lebanon, Qatar and Israel/Palestine top a list of places with the worst water shortages, as the growing climate crisis threatens more “day zeroes” — days where major cities will literally run out of water.

Meanwhile, sea levels continue their inevitable and accelerating rise. In the U.S., a recent report showed how 21 beach towns, including Miami Beach, Galveston, Atlantic City and Key West, will soon be underwater.

Speaking of Galveston, the state of Texas is looking toward Dutch expertise for assistance in how to construct what would be the nation’s most expensive and most ambitious coastal barrier for protection against intensifying hurricanes. The Netherlands has been devising ways to protect massive parts of its low-lying country against the ocean for centuries. Now the skills it has cultivated are, soberingly, increasingly relevant worldwide.

Meanwhile, the oceans continue to warm as they absorb the brunt of the heat human activity is adding to the atmosphere, and the warming waters are literally pushing Pacific salmon to the brink of their ability to survive, according to another report.

Distressingly, a recently published study showed that unexpected marine heat waves are now becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Alpine mountaineering routes are disintegrating as glaciers and icefields melt in the Alps. The ice-reliant climbing routes in the mountains are tumbling down and melting away faster than anyone expected.

Greenland experienced a record heat wave in the middle of this summer, which dramatically accelerated the melting of the ice sheet, meaning its contributions to sea level rise are in the process of accelerating as well.

Meanwhile, scientists have expressed alarm and shock about the fact that the permafrost across the Canadian Arctic is thawing out 70 years sooner than previously predicted.

Things are so dire in the icy realms of Earth that the country of Iceland is now preparing for how it will cope without any more ice … something that country relies upon for its identity, businesses, government and very existence.


These stunning satellite photos show an Arctic burning up in front of our eyes. In Alaska alone, at the time of this writing, at least 1.6 million acres have burned from at least 100 wildfires this summer. Wildfires in Siberiacould well burn into October when the first snows fall, as at least 6.7 million acres have burned across Russia.

Another report showed that, due to climate disruption, wildfires in California have already become 500 percent larger than they were since the 1970s.

Canadian media are reporting that forests that have been scorched in the Pacific Northwest are not growing back as expected. This brings into question numerous species of trees’ ability to regenerate as the fires get increasingly hot, burn longer, and scorch longer areas.

At the same time, another report reaffirmed the fact that even the rainy Northwest is now facing the inevitable increased risk of wildfires due to higher temperatures, increasing drought and lower humidity.


By 2050, Florida will have more days that feel like 100 degrees Fahrenheit (100°F) than any other state in the U.S., according to a recent study. Washington D.C. currently averages one week per year of 100-degree days, while by 2050 that could rise to two months. The same study warned that climate disruption will expose millions of people across the U.S. to “off-the-charts” extreme heat.

Meanwhile, Europe sizzled under a record-breaking heat wave this summer, as heat from the Sahara baked the continent and temperature records toppled en masse. There are far too many records to name from that heatwave, but notable was the fact that Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands recorded their highest temperatures ever during Europe’s second major summer heatwave.

In Canada, the far northern community of Nunavut saw warmer temperatures than the city of Victoria, far to its south. According to CBC News, “the source of the Arctic beach weather is a large current of air that somehow found its way north from the U.S. southeast” — a much more common occurrence as warming intensifies.

Denial and Reality

Ever busy denying the crisis, in the last month the Trump administration buried a large climate disruption response plan, as revealed by Politico. The outlet revealed how the Agriculture Department prevented the release of an already completed and sweeping plan about how the government should best respond to the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, in what could have been a slip of the tongue, Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry said during a recent nationally televised interview, “The climate is changing. Are we part of the reason? Yeah, it is. I’ll let people debate on who’s the bigger problem here.”

It’s not just the Trump administration that’s fueling denial. It was also revealed how DNC Chair Tom Perez introduced a resolution in an attempt to kill a climate debate among the Democratic presidential candidates.

Nevertheless, reality has a way of not going away, despite human efforts at denial.

recent report showed that the climate crisis is already well along in causing childhood deaths and the stunting of growth in Australia and across the Pacific. Other impacts on kids include lowered cognitive capacity and higher susceptibility to the spread of diseases.

And, to keep all of this in perspective, as a final reality check, the burning of fossil fuels reached an all-time record last year, according to oil giant BP.

For perspective on the rate of acceleration now baked into the system, half of all fossil fuels used by humans have been burned since just 1990. Many more consequences are lurking just around the corner: It takes at least 10 years before we begin to see the impacts of the CO2 once the fuels are burned.

The poisons released by melting Arctic ice

Pollution, anthrax – even nuclear waste – could be released by global warming

In 2012, Sue Natali arrived in Duvanny Yar, Siberia, for the first time. Then a postdoctoral research fellow studying the effects of thawing permafrost due to climate change, she had seen photos of this site many times. Rapid thawing at Duvanny Yar had caused a massive ground collapse – a “mega slump” – like a giant sinkhole in the middle of the Siberian tundra. But nothing had prepared her for seeing it in person.

As you walk along you see what look like logs poking out the permafrost. But they aren’t logs, they are the bones of mammoths and other Pleistocene animals – Sue Natali

“It was incredible, really incredible”, she recalls while speaking to me from The Woods Hole Research Center, Massachusetts, where she is an associate scientist. “I still get chills when I think about it… I just couldn’t believe the magnitude: collapsing cliffs the size of multi-storey buildings … and as you walk along you see what look like logs poking out the permafrost. But they aren’t logs, they are the bones of mammoths and other Pleistocene animals.”

What Natali describes is the visible, dramatic effects of a rapidly warming Arctic. The permafrost – up until now, permanently frozen land and soil – is thawing out, and revealing its hidden secrets. Alongside Pleistocene fossils are massive carbon and methane emissions, toxic mercury, and ancient diseases.

(Credit: Sue Natali)

The rapid thawing of permafrost causes “mega slumps” that puncture the landscape like the holes in swiss cheese (Credit: Sue Natali)

The organic-rich permafrost holds an estimated 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon. “That’s about twice as much carbon in the atmosphere, and three times as much carbon than that stored in all the world’s forests”, says Natali. She explains that between 30% and 70% of the permafrost may melt before 2100, depending on how effectively we respond to climate change. “The 70% is business as usual, if we continue to burn fossil fuels at our current rate, and 30% is if we vastly reduce our fossil fuel emissions… Of the 30-70% that thaws, the carbon locked up in organic matter will begin to be broken down by microbes, they use it as fuel or energy, and they release it as CO2 or methane.”

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Around 10% of the carbon that does defrost will probably be released as CO2, amounting to 130-150 billion tonnes. That is equivalent to the current rate of total US emissions, every year until 2100. Melting permafrost effectively introduces a new country at number two on the highest emitters list, and one that isn’t accounted for in current IPCC models. “People talk about a carbon bomb,” says Natali. “In geological timescales this is not a slow release. It is a pool of carbon that is locked away and is not accounted for in the carbon budget to keep rises below two degrees (Celsius).”

The Northern Hemisphere winter of 2018/2019 was dominated by headlines of the “polar vortex”, as temperatures plummeted unusually far south into North America. In South Bend, Indiana, it reached -29C in January 2019, almost twice as low as the city’s previous record set in 1936. What such stories masked, however, was that the opposite was happening in the far North, beyond the Arctic circle. January 2019 also saw Arctic sea ice average just 13.56 million square kilometres (5.24 million square miles), some 860,000 square kilometres (332,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average, and only slightly above the record low reached in January 2018.

(Credit: Alamy)

Melting ice can release methane, which will exacerbate global warming (Credit: Alamy)

In November, when temperatures should have been -25C, a temperature of 1.2C above freezing was recorded at the North Pole. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world (in part due to the loss of solar reflectivity).

“We are seeing a big increase in the thaw of permafrost”, confirms Emily Osborne, program manager for the Arctic Research Program, NOAA, and editor of the Arctic Report Card, an annual peer-reviewed environmental study of the Arctic. As a direct result of rising air temperatures, she says, the permafrost is thawing and “the landscape is physically crumbling as a result… things are changing so fast, and in ways that researchers hadn’t even anticipated.”

The headline of the 2017 Arctic Report Card pulled no punches: “Arctic shows no sign of returning to a reliably frozen region”. One paper co-authored by Hanne Christiansen, professor and vice dean of education at University Centre Svalbard, Norway, studied permafrost temperatures at a depth of 20 metres (that’s 65ft, far enough down not to be affected by short-term seasonal changes) and found temperatures had risen by up to 0.7C since 2000. Christiansen, who is also president of the International Permafrost Association, tells me, “temperatures are increasing inside the permafrost at relatively high speed… then, of course, what was permanently frozen before can become released.” In 2016, the autumn temperatures in Svalbard remained above zero throughout November, “the first time this has happened in the records that we have, going back to 1898”, says Christiansen. “Then large amounts of rain came – the precipitation here is typically snow… we had mudslides crossing roads for 100s of metres… we had to evacuate some parts of the population.”

(Credit: Getty Images)

The melting permafrost is transforming Alaska’s landscapes (Credit: Alamy)

In some places in the Alaskan Arctic, you fly over a swiss cheese of land and lakes formed by ground collapse – Sue Natali

The rapid change in North American permafrost is equally alarming. “In some places in the Alaskan Arctic, you fly over a swiss cheese of land and lakes formed by ground collapse,” says Natali, whose fieldwork has moved from Siberia to Alaska. “Water that was close to the surface now becomes a pond.” Many of these ponds are bubbling with methane, as microbes suddenly find themselves with a feast of ancient organic matter to munch on, releasing methane as a by-product. “We often walk across the lakes because it’s so shallow and it’s like you’re in a hot tub in some places, there is so much bubbling,” says Natali.

(Credit: Alamy)

The melting permafrost released anthrax in Siberia (Credit: Alamy)

But methane and CO2 are not the only things being released from the once frozen ground. In the summer of 2016, a group of nomadic reindeer herders began falling sick from a mysterious illness. Rumours began circling of the “Siberian plague”, last seen in the region in 1941. When a young boy and 2,500 reindeer died, the disease was identified: anthrax. Its origin was a defrosting reindeer carcass, a victim of an anthrax outbreak 75 years previously. The 2018 Arctic report card speculates that, “diseases like the Spanish flu, smallpox or the plague that have been wiped out might be frozen in the permafrost.” A French study in 2014 took a 30,000 year-old virus frozen within permafrost, and warmed it back up in the lab. It promptly came back to life, 300 centuries later. (To read more, see BBC Earth’s piece on the diseases hidden in ice.)

Adding to this apocalyptic vision, in 2016 the Doomsday Vault – a sub-permafrost facility in Arctic Norway, which safeguards millions of crop seeds for perpetuity – was breached with meltwater. And listed amongst the membership of The Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost, is Swedish Nuclear Waste Management who presumably also rely on a permanently frozen permafrost (when BBC Future approached them for comment on this point, they did not respond).

Long-preserved human archaeology may also be emerging, but just as quickly lost. A frozen Palaeo-Eskimo site in Greenland, preserved for some 4,000 years, is at risk of being washed away. This is just one of an estimated 180,000 archaeological sites preserved in the permafrost, often with soft tissues and clothing that uniquely remain intact but would rot quickly if exposed. Adam Markham, of the Union of Concerned Scientists has said, “with rapid, human-caused climate change, many sites or the artefacts they contain, will be lost before they have been discovered.”

More modern (and unwanted) human detritus will, however, not rot away: marine microplastics. Due to circular global marine currents, much plastic waste ends up in the Arcticwhere it becomes frozen in sea ice or permafrost. A recent study of marine micro-particles demonstrated that concentrations were higher in the Arctic Basin than all other ocean basins in the world. Microplastic concentrations in the Greenland Sea doubled between 2004 and 2015. “Scientists are finding that those microplastics are accumulating across the entire ocean and being dumped into the Arctic”, explains Osborne. “This is something we didn’t [previously] realise was a problem. What scientists are trying to find out now is the composition of these microplastics, what sort of fish are feeding on these… and whether we are essentially eating microplastics through eating these fish.”

(Credit: Alamy)

In 2016 the Doomsday Vault – a sub-permafrost facility in Arctic Norway, which safeguards millions of crop seeds for perpetuity – was breached with meltwater (Credit: Alamy)

Mercury is also entering the food chain, thanks to thawing permafrost. The Arctic is home to the most mercury on the planet. The US Geological Survey estimates there’s a total of 1,656,000 tonnes of mercury trapped in polar ice and permafrost: roughly twice the global amount in all other soils, oceans, and atmosphere. Natali explains that, “mercury often binds up with organic material in places where you have high organic matter content… organism’s bodies don’t remove it, so it bio-accumulates up the food web. Permafrost is almost the perfect storm – you have a lot of mercury in permafrost, it is released into wetland systems, those are the right environment for organisms to take them up, and then [it] heads up the food web. That’s a concern for wildlife, people, and the commercial fishing industry.”

Are there some positives of a thawing Arctic? Could a greener Arctic start to see more trees and vegetation take root, sequestering more carbon and offering new grazing land for animals? Osborne agrees that “the Arctic is greening”. But she adds that studies of animal populations actually suggest that, “warmer temperatures also increase the prevalence of viruses and disease, so we’re seeing a lot more caribou and reindeer becoming more sickly as a result of this warming climate… it is just not an environment that is suited to thrive at these warmer temperatures.” Natali also says that many areas are experiencing “Tundra browning”: the higher temperatures lead surface water to evaporate into the atmosphere, causing plants to die off. Other areas are experiencing sudden flooding due to the ground collapsing. “It’s not happening in 2100 or 2050, it’s now”, says Natali. “You hear people say ‘we used to pick blueberries over there’, and you look over there and it’s a wetland.”

Natali doesn’t want to end the conversation on a downer. There is a lot we can do, she says. The fate of the Arctic is not a foregone conclusion: “The actions taken by the international community will have a substantial impact on just how much carbon will be released and how much of the permafrost will thaw. We need to keep as much of the permafrost as we can frozen. And we do have some control of that.” Our emissions cannot remain “business as usual”. The Arctic depends on it. And we depend on the Arctic.

Arctic could have no ice in September, shocking study says

A shocking new study says that sea ice in the Arctic could completely disappear through September each summer if average global temperatures increase by as little as 2 degrees Celsius and climate conditions continue to worsen.

“Most likely, September Arctic sea ice will effectively disappear at between approximately 2 and 2.5 [degrees] of global warming,” said the abstract of the study, published in Nature Communications. “Yet, limiting the warming to 1.5 [degrees] under the Paris agreement may not be sufficient to prevent the ice-free Arctic.”

Polar bears sleep on the beach in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early September waiting for the ice to form on the Arctic Ocean. (Credi: Michael Miller)

Polar bears sleep on the beach in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early September waiting for the ice to form on the Arctic Ocean. (Credi: Michael Miller)


September is usually the month that sees the least amount of ice in the Arctic and is being used as a measure because it’s the “transition period” between summer and winter, said Won Chang, the study’s co-author.

“Ice recedes from June to September and then in September, it begins to grow again in a seasonal cycle. And we’re saying we could have no ice in September,” Chang said in a statement.

Using a new statistical method of 21st-century climate projections, Chang and the other researchers found that there is at least a 6 percent probability that the sea ice disappears if temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius. That bumps up to a 28 percent probability if temps rise 2 degrees Celsius.

“Our work provides a new statistical and mathematical framework to calculate climate change and impact probabilities,” Jason Evans, one of the study’s co-authors, added in the statement.

A lack of summer sea ice is of great concern for Arctic wildlife, such as polar bears and seals, which rely on the sea ice for food and raising their young.

It’s also become a source of contention amongst politicians and climate activists. In May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the melting ice presented “new opportunities for trade,” as new naval passageways are opened.

In June, diplomats and climate experts gathered in Germany for U.N.-hosted talks on climate change amid growing public pressure for governments to act faster against global warming.

study published in April showed that Earth’s glaciers are melting much faster than previously thought, losing 369 billion tons of snow and ice each year, more than half of that in North America.

Skeptics have largely dismissed fears over man’s impact on global warming, saying climate change has been going on since the beginning of time. They also claim the dangers of a warming planet are being wildly exaggerated and question the impact that fossil fuels have had on climate change.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Greenland’s Rapid Melting Is a Hugely Underplayed Story

This is not what you want to see.
This is not what you want to see.

Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe

The announcement that 11 billion tons dropped off  the Greenland Ice Sheet in one day turned out to be a made-for-television example of the effects of climate change.  Dramatic videos of water pouring off the glaciers went viral.  But apart from the occasional spectacular image, it’s hard to focus the attention of the news media on the Greenland Ice Sheet.  And that’s too bad.

Because it’s worse than you thought.

Consider: According to NASA’s National Snow & Ice Data Center, between June 11 and June 20 of this year, the Greenland Ice Sheet (or GIS) lost an estimated 80 billion tons of ice.  That’s an average of 8 billion tons every 24 hours for 10 days, a record warming event.  But there was hardly a whisper of news coverage, perhaps because there weren’t any exciting videos.

Maybe the old cliché is true after all: A picture is worth a thousand words.  After all, the GIS has been melting for decades. The tough part is getting people to pay attention. In northeast Greenland the sheet is vanishing even faster than climate models predict. Recent research has shown that the most rapid melt is in southwest Greenland, where the glaciers by and large don’t terminate in the sea. This result, which took many climate scientists by surprise, tends to confirm rising temperatures rather than changing ocean currents as the cause.

Yes, it’s possible that Greenland’s ice sheet actually grew slightly in 2017.  It’s also possible that snowfall in 2017 and 2018 roughly balanced the mass of ice loss. But before climate-change skeptics bombard me (@StepCarter) with snide told-ya-so’s, bear in mind these are only possibilities.  Unfortunately, the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite, our most sensitive measuring tool, stopped giving reliable data in 2016 and went dead during 2017. (Happily, a follow-on mission lifted into orbit in May of 2018).

Besides, recent ice growth, if any, seems to be an anomaly in a long-term melting trend. As the same Danish researchers who made the point about snowfall noted, “the neutral mass change in the last two years does not — and cannot — begin to compensate for these losses.”

Even prominent climate skeptics have begun to concede that the disappearance of the GIS is related to the globe’s changing climate.  Alas, a sobering paper from the distinguished Yale economist William Nordhaus argues that we’re already too late. Absent forms of extreme restraint that will are politically impossible, writes Nordhaus, Greenland’s ice sheet is going to melt over the next few centuries, and rebuilding it will be the work of many generations.

What would be the result? A 2017 study found that the Greenland ice sheet, which as recently as 1993 contributed only 5% of the rise in sea levels, is now responsible for 25%.  Melting of the GIS over the past 40 years has raised sea levels only about half an inch.  According to recent modeling, however, the disintegration of Greenland’s ice is likely to raise sea levels along the East Coast of the U.S. by a minimum of 0.2 meters (about 8 inches) over the next century1  Unless you spend a lot of time in littoral areas, this may not sound like much, but bear in mind that those extra inches would be the starting level for future storm surges. (Yes, melting on the GIS may cause similar effects in coastal Europe.)

Don’t get me wrong: Climate change poses bigger threats than the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, dramatic as that event might prove. But it’s the GIS that’s in the news right now, and it’s the melting of the GIS that might well prove impossible to stop.

If all of this is inevitable, what to do? The buzz words are adaptation and mitigation.

Adaptation we might loosely call learning to live with what comes next. Successful adaptation could reduce the costs of coastal damage over the next century by a factor of seven. For example, people who live along the seacoast might pull up stakes. Although some activists write as though anything short of official mandate represents a policy failure, a degree of adaptation may already be occurring. According to “Climate Gentrification” theory, as people learn about the effects of climate change, those who can afford to move, will. In particular, they will begin to abandon the coast and move further inland. This may already be happening: A study of the Miami real estate market found that since 2000, properties at higher elevations have appreciated in value faster than similar properties at lower elevations. (The research is often misdescribed in the press as showing that coastal properties have lost value.)

Some forms of adaptation have positive results. For example — don’t laugh! — a recent article in Nature Sustainability notes that as Greenland’s glaciers retreat, the island could become an exporter of sand and gravel. (Apparently there’s a worldwide shortage.) In the U.S., many companies are likely to profit from the need to strengthen infrastructure.

Mitigation involves the effort to limit the effect of climate change, usually through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This is where draconian and politically unachievable regulatory proposals usually come in. The optimist in me is more interested in technological solutions. Climate change activists  tend to deride geoengineering as “eclectic, messianic and mostly untested.” Given the urgency of the crisis, however, we should be testing as much as we can.

The most sought-after prize is the ability to inexpensively remove greenhouse gasses from the air.  Carbon capture technology, aimed at using those gasses to create synthetic fuels, has drawn the attention of serious investors, among them Bill Gates.  Oil and gas companies, too, are understandably interested.

I hope the technology proves feasible. As I’ve noted before in this space, whenever engineering solutions are proposed as tools to mitigate the effects of climate change, critics rush to insist that technological fixes won’t work. Carbon capture is no different. And perhaps the prospect does indeed carry with it a whiff of the magic bullet.  But we’ve managed to fire magic bullets from time to time.  If we believe the threat of climate change is real — and what’s happening in Greenland is pretty good evidence — there’s certainly no justification for not trying.

  1. Disintegration of Antarctic ice is expected to have little effecton sea levels along the East Coast – although of course its effects will be seen elsewhere.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

A Heatwave in Greenland

Recent unseasonably warm temperatures, brought to Greenland by a heat wave that smashed records across Europe a week before, have accelerated the melting of the ice sheet that covers 82 percent of the country, releasing water at record rates. On Thursday alone, an estimated 12.5 billion tons of meltwater flowed into the ocean, which would be the highest single-day total since 1950, according to Ted Scambos, a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, quoted in The Washington Post. Snow and ice melt every summer in Greenland, and this heat wave was an anomalous event, but climatologists warn that overall warming trends intensify such events, and make them more likely in years to come. The Associated Press cites a June 2019 study that concluded “melting ice in Greenland alone will add between 5 and 33 centimeters (2 to 13 inches) to rising global sea levels by the year 2100.”

HINTS: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

  • A large river of melting water flows on an ice sheet in western Greenland on August 1, 2019. 

    Caspar Haarløv, Into the Ice via AP

  • A boat carrying tourists motors past an iceberg at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019, near Ilulissat, Greenland. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • A massive iceberg peeks out from behind fog in the Ilulissat Icefjord on August 3, 2019. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • Braided meltwater rivers form on an ice sheet in western Greenland on August 1, 2019. 

    Caspar Haarløv, Into the Ice via AP

  • Meltwater in western Greenland drains into a moulin hole that empties into the ocean underneath the ice, photographed on August 1, 2019. 

    Caspar Haarløv, Into the Ice via AP

  • Meltwater flows into the fjord near Kangerlussaq in western Greenland on August 1, 2019. 

    Caspar Haarløv, Into the Ice via AP

  • Flowers bloom on a hillside along the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • Visitors look out onto free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord on July 30, 2019. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • In this aerial view, ice that has broken off from Greenland’s Eqip Sermia glacier drifts away from the glacier’s 200-meter-tall face during unseasonably warm weather on August 2, 2019. Eqip Sermia is approximately 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, and while the calving of ice from its face is a natural process going back millions of years, the glacier’s retreat of about three kilometers over the past 100 years is a new phenomenon. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • This natural-color image made with the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite shows meltwater ponding on the surface of the ice sheet in northwestern Greenland, near the sheet’s edge, on July 30, 2019. While the heat wave broke in western Europe after a few days late last month, the extreme temperatures shifted north and caused massive ice melts in Greenland and the Arctic, according to Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist with the Danish Meteorological Institute. 

    NASA via AP

  • A massive iceberg stands at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord during a week of unseasonably warm weather on August 3, 2019. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • In this aerial view, melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord on July 30, 2019. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • Inuit fishermen prepare a net as free-floating ice floats behind them at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord on July 30, 2019. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • In this view from an airplane, rivers of meltwater carve into the Greenland ice sheet near the Sermeq Avangnardleq glacier on August 4, 2019, near Ilulissat. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • Meltwater rushes down from the Greenland ice sheet near the Sermeq Avangnardleq glacier on August 4, 2019. 

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • Water drips from ice in the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019.

A new map is the best view yet of how fast Antarctica is shedding ice

The research could help improve projections of sea level rise

8:00AM, AUGUST 5, 2019

ICE ICE BABY  Glaciologists used observations from a cohort of satellite missions over decades to create the most detailed map yet of ice flow across Antarctica.

Decades of satellite observations have now provided the most detailed view yet of how Antarctica continually sheds ice accumulated from snowfall into the ocean.

The new map is based on an ice-tracking technique that is 10 times as precise as methods used for previous Antarctic surveys, researchers report online July 29 in Geophysical Research Letters. That offered the first comprehensive viewof how ice moves across all of Antarctica, including slow-moving ice in the middle of the continent rather than just rapidly melting ice at the coasts.

Charting Antarctic ice flow so exactly could reveal the topography of the ground underneath, as well as improve forecasts for how much ice Antarctica stands to lose to the ocean in the future. Ice melting off the continent is already known to be a driver of global sea level rise (SN: 7/7/18, p. 6).

Glaciologists at the University of California, Irvine, uncovered subtle movements of Antarctic ice with a kind of measurement called synthetic-aperture radar interferometric phase data. By using a satellite to bounce radar signals off a patch of ice, researchers can determine how quickly that ice is moving toward or away from the satellite. Combining observations of the same spot from different angles reveals the speed and direction of the ice’s motion along the ground.

Covering ground

A new map based on satellite radar data reveals the velocity of ice flow across Antarctica from areas of high elevation (thick black lines) to the coasts. Inland ice moves incredibly slowly — much of it plods along at fewer than 10 meters per year. Closer to the ocean, ice can travel hundreds to thousands of meters per year.

Velocity of ice flowing across Antarctica varies by location

Antarctica map

To get multiple vantage points of the same swathes of ice, researchers had to cobble together data from about half a dozen satellites launched by Canada, Europe and Japan since the early 1990s. “Each brought a little piece of the puzzle,” says study coauthor Eric Rignot.

The resulting map reveals how ice flows from points of high elevation, known as basin boundaries toward the coast. For 80 percent of Antarctica, the map shows average ice velocity down to about 20 centimeters per year. That’s a major upgrade from previous maps, which relied on ice-tracking techniques with uncertainties of a few meters per year.

In 2021, NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization plan to launch a satellite that will gather enough data to update this map every few months — allowing scientists to better monitor how ice flow across Antarctica changes as the climate changes.

Greenland’s ice sheet just lost 11 billion tons of ice — in one day

First a cartoon:

Now the news…

Greenland’s ice sheet just lost 11 billion tons of ice — in one day

(CNN)After months of record temperatures, scientists say Greenland’s ice sheet experienced its biggest melt of the summer on Thursday, losing 11 billion tons of surface ice to the ocean — equivalent to 4.4 million Olympic swimming pools.

Greenland’s ice sheet usually melts during the summer, but the melt season typically begins around the end of May; this year it began at the start. It has been melting “persistently” over the past four months, which have recorded all time temperature highs, according to Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist with Danish Meteorological Institute.
This July alone, Greenland’s ice sheet lost 197 billion tons of ice — the equivalent of around 80 million Olympic swimming pools — according to Mottram. She told CNN the expected average would be between 60-70 billion tons at this time of year.
The weather conditions that brought a heat wave to Europe last week have reached the Arctic, where scientists say they could trigger one of Greenland’s biggest ice melts since 1950, when reliable records began.
Scientists recorded unconfirmed temperatures of 2.7C at 3,000 meters above sea level on Thursday, which would be close to a new record if confirmed.

Record temperatures

It came on the same day as meteorologists reported that globally, this July has been as hot as any month in recorded history.
Global average temperatures for July are on par with, and possibly higher, than those of the current record holder, July 2016, according to preliminary data for July 1-29 released by the Copernicus Climate Change Programme, which analyzes temperature data from around the planet. The final data will be released Monday.
Mottram said Greenland’s warm weather is set to continue for the next few days, perhaps longer. With the melt season typically lasting to the end of August, she said the ice sheet is likely to see continued substantial melting, although not necessarily as much as in recent weeks.
Greenland’s ice sheet is the second biggest in the world and this season’s ice melt has already contributed around half a millimeter to global sea levels.
It comes in a summer where the Arctic has experienced “unprecedented” wildfires, which scientists say have been facilitated by high temperatures.
Since the start of June, Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), has tracked more than 100 intense wildfires in the Arctic Circle.
Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a faster rate than the global average, providing the right conditions for wildfires to spread, Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECWMF), told CNN last week.

Photos from Greenland reveal worrying cost of European heat wave

As Europe reels from a record-breaking heat wave, which has halted the Tour de France and sparked major fires in France, a concerning consequence has been laid bare in striking images from Greenland.

They show how the extreme Saharan blast of heat has taken a devastating toll on the nation, which is home to the world’s second-largest ice sheet — meaning knock-on effects for sea levels and weather across the globe.

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Heat records in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany tumbled in recent days as hot air surged from North Africa and Spain.


The UN weather agency voiced “concern” as the heat wave moved toward Greenland earlier this week, saying it “will result in high temperatures and consequently enhanced melting of the Greenland ice sheet.”

In this aerial view melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In this aerial view melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

World Meteorological Organization spokeswoman Clare Nullis added that ice had already been melting at high levels over the last few weeks in Greenland, even before the heat wave struck.

Greenland’s ice sheet usually melts during the summer.

However, it started melting a lot earlier than usual this year, in May, and the current heat wave is expected to accelerate the process.


Nullis said Greenland’s ice sheet lost 160 billion tons of ice in July alone — roughly the equivalent of 64 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“Normally, when you get a temperature record broken it’s by a fraction of a degree,” said told reporters. “What we saw yesterday was records being broken by two, three, four degrees — it was absolutely incredible.”

Shocking images of the heat wave’s toll on Greenland come as Europe is still reeling from a heatwave that continues to break records.

Britain has officially had its hottest day on record. Weather agency the Met Office says the temperature reached 38.7 C (101.6 F) at Cambridge University Botanic Garden in eastern England during last week’s heat wave.


Visitors look out onto free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. The Sahara heat wave that recently sent temperatures to record levels in parts of Europe is arriving in Greenland. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Visitors look out onto free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. The Sahara heat wave that recently sent temperatures to record levels in parts of Europe is arriving in Greenland. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The temperature was recorded on Thursday and confirmed on Monday after “quality control and analysis” by the Met Office.

The previous UK record was 38.5C (101.3 F), set in August 2003. Temperature records fell across Europe last week as a suffocating heat wave swept up from the Sahara.

Met Office climate scientist Mark McCarthy said climate change was making extreme temperatures more common.

“Climate change has increased the likelihood and severity of heat wave episodes across Europe, which will have also increased the risks of a 40 Celsius temperature event in the U.K.,” he said.

When is Arctic ice like a magnet?

Arctic meltponds
Arctic meltponds (Image courtesy: Kenneth Golden)

model that simulates magnets can also reproduce pools of water on Arctic sea ice from just one real-world measurement. Researchers in the US and UK adapted the Ising statistical model of phase transitions in ferromagnets to recreate melt-pond patterns. Characterizing the distribution of meltwater at small scales could improve climate models and predict ice loss better.

As climate changes, warming is expected to be especially rapid at high latitudes. In the Arctic, a lengthening melt season over the last few decades has already reduced the volume and extent of sea ice, with year-on-year ice-loss rates generally exceeding predictions.

One reason for the failure of models to predict this loss accurately might lie in how they account for melt ponds. The formation and growth of these ponds, which occurs at the transition between sea ice and open ocean, includes a positive feedback loop that makes the system especially sensitive.

“Pond evolution largely controls sea-ice albedo, a key parameter in climate modelling and one of the most important — and least understood — processes in determining the role of sea ice in the climate system,” says Kenneth Golden of the University of Utah, US.

Real-life and modelled meltponds

As melt ponds form on the sea-ice surface, highly-reflective ice and snow are replaced by darker pools of water. The meltwater absorbs more solar radiation and warms up more than the ice that it replaces; the extra energy can trigger additional melting in its surroundings. When the melt pond penetrates the full thickness of the ice, warmer ocean water floods in from below, accelerating the process.

Existing descriptions of pond formation in global climate models consider the overall volume of meltwater but not its surface distribution. Yet, because the albedo change caused by melt ponds is a surface process, and because the rate at which ponds conduct heat to their surroundings depends on their perimeter, understanding the rules governing melt pond sizes is crucial for climate modelling.

Sea-ice spin

The standard Ising model comprises a lattice of interacting particles, each of which is assigned a spin value that is either up or down. To capture the detailed geometry of melt ponds, Golden, with colleagues at Northumbria University, UK, the University of Dayton, US, and the University of Utah, US, created a version where the lattice represents the sea-ice surface, and each node a pixel of either ice or liquid water.

Starting with a random input configuration that does not resemble the real-world, each node interacts with its neighbours until the system settles on a local low-energy state. With a lattice spacing of 1 metre – the length scale over which Arctic ice exhibits significant topographic differences – the pattern that emerges from the energy-minimization process closely matches the melt-pond distribution seen in real life. For example, both real and modelled ponds scale in size according to the same power law, and both form more complex, fractal shapes when they grow larger than 100 sq. m.“The approach could ultimately lead to a framework for representing pattern formation occurring at spatial scales smaller than the grid spacing used in global climate models, which currently track meltwater volume without representing its spatial distribution,” says Golden.

Other parameters that describe ferromagnetic behaviour in the original Ising model also have real-world analogues in the version adapted for sea-ice. The global magnetic field, for example, which conventionally governs how likely particle spins are to align as up or down, now corresponds to solar energy input, making each lattice point more or less likely to be water or ice. The strength of coupling between neighbouring particle spins, meanwhile, now describes heat flow between water and ice in adjacent pixels.

Although Golden and colleagues ran their model with zero global field and an infinite coupling strength, changing these parameters after the initial process could perturb a realistic pond arrangement from its metastable state into an alternative low-energy configuration. In this way, the researchers might simulate how sea ice evolves as melt ponds respond to changing environmental conditions.

Golden and colleagues reported their findings in New Journal of Physics.

People are losing their homes to wildfires. They are dealing with floods. Their loved ones are dying in extreme heat. Their houses are falling into the sea.

Climate change is no longer theoretical. It’s in our backyard.

Here are four snapshots of this new reality — and what we’re doing about it.

The only thing I’m thinking is my mama burning alive, and she’ll be crying out my name.
When John Bino learned that a wildfire was closing in on his home in Fort McMurray’s Abasand neighbourhood on May 3, 2016, he was at work — one and a half hours away.

John Bino holds up the framed number of his house in Fort McMurray.
John Bino holds up the framed number of his house in Fort McMurray, which burned to the ground in the 2016 wildfire. (Craig Chivers/CBC)
He called home and told his wife, Jenny Solidum, to gather their two young boys and go to a friend’s place in nearby Timberlea. In the meantime, Bino would drive back to the house to retrieve his 76-year-old mother, who was visiting from India. She was a polio survivor and too heavy for his wife to lift.

But by the time he arrived at home, police had barricaded the road. Bino pleaded with them to let him through.

“I said, ‘My mom, she’s handicapped, she cannot move. She doesn’t speak the language. She’s stuck. She has no idea what’s happening. We need to rescue her and the door is locked.'”

Police assured him his mother would be rescued and told him to go. Bino waited hours at a nearby evacuation centre. But Solidum kept calling him, in a panic, as the fire approached Timberlea.

“I had to make a decision, right? To take care of my wife and kids or to take care of my mom.” Bino decided to rejoin his family. But as they fled north from evacuation centre to evacuation centre and eventually onto a flight to Calgary, Bino made frantic phone calls to 911 and the Red Cross. No one knew anything about his mother’s whereabouts.

Bino tried not to dwell on reports that Abasand was burning. “The only thing I’m thinking is my mama burning alive, and she’ll be crying out my name.”

Two days after being forced to abandon his home, Bino got a surprise phone call. A doctor at Leduc Community Hospital, just outside Edmonton, asked if he knew someone named Salimma Michael, who had been airlifted to safety.

“I was so relieved, my knees were shaking,” Bino said. The family rushed to Edmonton, and arrived at the hospital to visit Michael the next morning.

When Bino and Solidum bought the house in Abasand back in 2014, they loved the fact that the neighbourhood was on a hill surrounded by forest. “The trails were great. And it was peaceful and quiet,” Bino said. “No one ever mentioned [anything] about forest fires being a risk.”

Infographic showing the number of hectares burned by wildfires each year across Canada. Source: National Forestry Database
Growing wildfires
There has been a “significant increase” in the area burned by wildfires each year across Canada, Environment Canada reports. On average, wildfires in Canada have been burning 2.5 million hectares a year (nearly half the area of Nova Scotia) — double the 1970s average. B.C. and Alberta have been bearing the brunt of that increase.

Source: National Forestry Database

Climate change has increased the risk of major wildfires by extending the fire season by several weeks and generating hotter, drier conditions that support more extreme, fast-burning fires. The Fort McMurray fire in 2016, nicknamed “The Beast,” led to the largest wildfire evacuation in Canadian history. By the time it was extinguished that August, the fire had destroyed 6,000 square kilometres and caused $3.8 billion in insured damage alone.

When Bino and Solidum finally returned to the house, it was among 2,400 buildings that had burned to the ground. Almost everything the family owned was gone — from their children’s first locks of hair to a medal of valour Bino’s late father had received from the Indian navy.

The events of those few, intense days changed Bino’s perspective. “You know, we got our mom back. So to hell with the stuff, right?” But their struggles weren’t over. Solidum was so traumatized by the event, and the guilt of leaving Bino’s mother behind, that for more than a year, she became shell-shocked and unresponsive whenever she heard sirens or saw flashing lights.

Ashy remains of Bino’s neighbourhood after the wildfire had been extinguished.
This photo of the Abasand neighbourhood after the fire was taken by John Bino’s neighbour, Peter Fortna, when residents were allowed to return and look for belongings that may have survived. (Peter Fortna)
Bino also suffered. He was laid off from his engineering job, and once the family had settled in Edmonton, he got a position that required a five-hour commute back to Fort McMurray. Bino ended up quitting that job to care for his mother, but the situation eventually became untenable, and he was forced to send his mother back to India.

In spite of the trauma, Bino said the whole experience left him with a deep sense of gratitude for his family’s safety and care.

“The government, people — everybody was so helpful. It was amazing. It was like … how do people care about each other so damn much here?”

Adapting to wildfires
Climate change is the biggest and most significant factor behind the increase in wildfire risk and damage, said Laura Stewart, president of Firesmart Canada, which provides tools to communities to reduce the risks and impacts of wildfires.

But the development of industry and housing in forested or grassland areas also plays a role — as illustrated by Fort McMurray’s Abasand neighbourhood, which is surrounded by boreal forest.

Boreal forests contain trees like jack pine and lodgepole pine, whose seed cones only open when exposed to heat, and are reliant on wildfires to regenerate.

Natural Resources Canada estimates the cost of managing wildfires has been rising about $120 million per decade since 1970, to an annual cost of up to $1 billion in recent years.

Governments and communities can reduce the risks and impacts of wildfires by:

Imposing fire bans or even forest closures to shut down industrial operations when the risk of fires is high.
Thinning or removing conifer trees in surrounding communities to reduce the risk of crown fires, which spread from treetop to treetop, and are the most intense and dangerous wildland fires.
Creating fire breaks around communities, such as golf courses and soccer fields.
Burying power lines to eliminate the risk of them starting fires (as happened in California in 2018).