Why is the Arctic a mystery?
By DANIELLE BODENSTEIN, Associated Press WriterWith the exception of the Arctic, the world’s northernmost continent, it is not a place you would expect to find the most dramatic geological changes.
In fact, it’s not even a place in the southern hemisphere where most of the major ice sheets and glaciers have retreated since the last ice age, a few thousand years ago.
But that’s about to change.
Scientists say it’s only a matter of time before the planet’s north pole begins to move north.
The ice sheet that once covered the north pole is now retreating rapidly, melting and eroding as the planet warms.
As a result, the ice sheet has begun to spread across much of the northern hemisphere, melting more quickly and forming new ice sheets in other places, scientists say.
Scientists and icebreaker pilots in Antarctica are already noticing a distinct change in the shape of the ice as the continent warms, and a growing number of researchers are calling for an international effort to stop the retreat.
“I think it’s inevitable,” said Jeff McMillan, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and one of the world.
“It’s been happening for a very long time.”
The process has happened slowly, but the changes are already evident.
Scientists say the ice is slowly disappearing, leaving behind a vast expanse of ocean and a blanket of fresh ice that looks like a sea of orange.
The surface is becoming a sea.
The amount of fresh water has also increased.
And it’s melting faster than ever before.
“We’re seeing this rapid change,” said McMillam, who is also a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
“The ocean has gotten bigger and more salty, so the ice has got more to work with.
It’s also losing more water.
The melting is a bit faster than we expected, but it’s still happening.”
McMillam and others say the rapid melting of the north polar ice sheet is the biggest change since the early 20th century.
That change has already caused some major changes in the climate and the polar region.
The first major warming occurred in the early 1800s when people started to burn coal and oil to make more fuel to drive cars and for ships.
Then in the 1930s, the effects of CO2 emissions became apparent.
CO2 has also been the main driver of the warming in the past 100 years.
“As CO2 increases, the ocean temperature is going up,” McMillans research assistant, John O’Connell, said.
“As the ocean warm, the sea ice melts.
That means there’s more water to go around.”
McMillan is a member of a team that has mapped the extent of the melt, and he said it has been pretty clear that the ice will eventually be pushed north.
“There’s a lot of ice that’s going to go south,” he said.
McMillan said it will take time for the region to recover from the melt and the new sea ice.
But he said the changes will not only impact the environment, but will also affect the climate.
“Climate change is a very real, very global issue, and we can’t have climate change if we don’t have sea ice,” McMills said.
“It’s like the car industry: we can only have a great car if we have good ice.”
The first signs of the changes began to appear in the 1970s, when more than half of the globe’s ice sheets had been completely melted.
But that’s not where the story gets really interesting.
The area where ice sheets are melting is the same area where the first major cooling took place.
“At that time, we were really in the midst of an unprecedented warming of the Earth,” McMillian said.
The last ice-free period in the northern half of Greenland occurred in 1992.
Scientists think that the first cooling of the planet was caused by greenhouse gases like CO2 that were released during the Little Ice Age, a global cooling that ended about 11,000 years ago in the last glacial period.
But now, scientists are warning that the planet is going to get much warmer as the world warms and more ice melts from the poles.
McMills research team has already begun mapping the areas that have warmed the most in recent years.
The first maps show a massive expansion of ocean water in the Arctic Ocean.
“A lot of it’s actually melting out of the bottom of the sea,” he explained.
“That means that we have a lot more water coming down the seam than we did a few years ago.”
Scientists also say that the amount of snow is increasing faster than it was in previous decades.
That could mean that the climate is getting warmer as it warms even faster.
“People are predicting that the Arctic will warm up by as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit or more,” McMillin said.
That’s a significant increase over previous predictions of an average warming of 1.5