Summer melt season shrinks Arctic sea ice to second-lowest level in satellite record
In the spring of 2004, freelance adventurer Ben Saunders, then just 26 years old, had to give up his attempt to make a solo trip across the North Pole from Cape Artichevsky in Siberia to Canada. He set out on skis March 5 and reached the pole on May 11. But 72 days after starting out, he had to be rescued about 30 miles from Canada because open water blocked his way. He had trekked 599 miles, often without mittens or hat, with temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit compared with 2001 when it had averaged 33 degrees F. “The weather this year was the warmest since they began keeping records,” he told a reporter at the Ottawa Citizen before flying back to his U.K. home.
At the time, and for many years afterward, a number of climate science deniers asserted that ice in the Arctic Ocean was not melting more than in the past, but actually expanding. Last week, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center based at my alma mater at the University of Colorado in Boulder announced that the extent of ice in the Arctic at the end of the summer melt season in 2020 is the second lowest in the satellite record, 2012 still being lowest. The 40-year trend, though not a straight line, is continuing its downward path and will someday soon result in ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean, though predictions for that range from a few years to mid-century. The impacts for species dependent on the ice, for shipping, for weather around the planet, and for the people who live in the circumpolar world will be immense.