One of the coldest places on Earth is so hot it’s melting.
Glaciers, sea ice and a massive ice sheet in the Arctic are thawing from toasty air above and warm water below. The northern polar region is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet and that’s setting off alarm bells.
“The melting of the Arctic will come to haunt us all,” said German climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf.
While global leaders set a goal of preventing 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of man-made warming since pre-industrial times, the Arctic has already hit that dangerous mark. Last year, the Arctic Circle was about 3.6 degrees (6.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal.
Earth is getting hotter because of the buildup of heat-trapping gases spewed into the air by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, according to decades of peer-reviewed research. Scientists have long predicted the Arctic would warm first and faster than the rest of the globe. Real-time measurements are proving them right.
The Arctic is mostly ocean covered with a layer of ice; changes from ice to water often kick in a cycle that contributes to global warming.
Sea ice is white and it reflects the sun’s heat back into space. But when it melts, it’s replaced with dark ocean that strongly absorbs it, said former NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, who heads the environmental research program at the University of Colorado.
That heat gets transferred back up to the atmosphere in the fall and winter. As that happens, water vapor _ a greenhouse gas _ hangs around, trapping more heat. More clouds form around that time, also acting as a blanket, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.