While some remain critical
that global warming is occurring at all, the melting of the North Pole
represents a sharp indicator against voices of doubt. Now scientists are
predicting that a major milestone will be reached this summer or next -- the
disappearance of the North Pole's ice cover during the Arctic Summer.
To most, imagining the North Pole without ice -- only water -- is an incredible
prospect. But that's the reality of a warming world.
The prediction comes
from the U.S.'s top climate researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data
Center in Boulder, Colorado. They predict that in September, there is a
good chance that the ice will be gone on the pole.
While this is obviously a rather sobering event, the scientists aren't afraid
to poke a little fun at the climatological milestone. Says the center's
senior research scientist, Mark Serreze, "We kind of have an informal
betting pool going around in our center and that betting pool is 'does the
North Pole melt out this summer?'"
About half the researchers are betting that the geographic pole, currently
covered in ice will be ice free this fall. Last year already saw a
similarly landmark event -- the Northwest Passage was ice free last September
for the first time in recorded history.
All of these events are merely part of a larger trend according to
researchers. Says Serreze, "What we've seen through the past few
decades is the Arctic sea ice cover is becoming thinner and thinner as the
system warms up."
Why are they uncertain about whether this summer's warmth will pierce the polar
ice? The warming fluctuates largely with weather patterns, so the
metaphorical straw that breaks the camel's back will likely be weather, either
this year or next.
"Last year, we had sort of a perfect weather pattern to get rid of ice to
open up that Northwest Passage," explains Serreze, "This year,
a different pattern can set up. so maybe we'll preserve some ice there. We're
in a wait-and-see mode right now. We'll see what happens."
While the event is significant, it will not cause any problems says Serreze.
He states, "From the viewpoint of the science, the North Pole is just
another point in the globe, but it does have this symbolic meaning.
There's supposed to be ice at the North Pole. The fact that we may not have any
by the end of this summer could be quite a symbolic change."
He does say that the rate of disappearance still "astounds" him, even
though he's used to seeing unusual weather daily. He says the development
is just a sign of how global warming is picking up its pace.
Says Serreze, "Five years ago, to think that we'd even be talking about
the possibility of the North Pole melting out in the summer, I would have never
thought it. If you talked to me or other scientists just a few years ago,
we were saying that we might lose all or most of the summer sea ice cover by
anywhere from 2050 to 2100. Then, recently, we kind of revised those
estimates, maybe as early as 2030. Now, there's people out there saying it
might be even before that. So, things are happening pretty quick up
of global warming have also suggested that the melt is part
of a cyclical process. Flat out wrong, says Serreze. He
explains, "It's not cyclical at this point. I think we understand the
physics behind this pretty well. We've known for at least 30 years, from
our earliest climate models, that it's the Arctic where we'd see the first
signs of global warming."
Not above a bit of scolding of global warming skeptical, Serreze says,
"It's a situation where we hate to say we told you so, but we told you
While Serreze says that the climate effects of warming may be damaging, there
may be a bit of a silver
lining for the time being in the clouds of global warming. The
disappearance of ice will allow oil to be saved on shipping routes by using the
Northwest Passage. Also, speaking of oil, there are large oil reserves at
the pole. In perhaps the greatest irony, global warming may free these
reserves, which in turn will help contribute to more warming.
Much understanding remains to be developed of the causes, mechanics, and ramifications
of warming, but as the stark face of reality rears its ugly head in the
form of historic
melting, it becomes clear that there's little room remaining for skepticism
that massive climate change is indeed occurring.