Polar Ice Caps

Antarctica accounts for 90% of the world's ice. The Antarctic is an enormous frozen continent that covers about 20% of the southern hemisphere. It is the driest, windiest continent on Earth, covered by ice that can reach 4km deep. The West coast of the Peninsula is warming at a rate 2 or 3 times faster than the global average. The average annual temperature of this region has increased about 2.5C in the last 50 years. However, data on temperatures in Antarctica only really go back about 50 years, anything beyond that is surmised from ice cores or other sources and so we don't really know how the temperatures vary over even the medium term in Antarctica. The Antarctic Peninsula also represents only about 4% of the whole continent, the other 96% appears to have had a stable temperature over the last 40 years to the extent where the most remarkable aspect is the stability compared to other parts of the world. link   
The polar region is the area of the world that has seen the most profound effects of climate change in recent decades. Average year-round temperatures in the Arctic are 3C higher than they were in the pre-industrial era, snowfall is heavier, winds are stronger and the ice sheet has been shrinking for 30 years. link

Page on Greenland
Page on Glaciers



  • Antarctica  / Penguins
  • Arctic Ocean / Polar Bears                      

March 2017: Antarctic ice has set an unexpected record. Still waiting for the final numbers, but it is abundantly clear that the sea ice ringing the Antarctic continent has fallen precipitously reaching a record low. In 38 years of records dating back to 1979, the sea ice lows seen as of the end of February 2017, a time of year when ice in the Antarctic is at its annual minimum,  are unprecedented. The area of ocean covered by sea ice still appears to be shrinking, but as of Feb. 28, there were just 2.131 million square kilometers of floating ice surrounding Antarctica, according to data provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. link

October 2016: Antarctic glacier biggest threat to rising sea levels. The glacier in question, named Thwaites, is a linchpin of the West Antarctic ice sheet. It is larger than Pennsylvania and presents a 75-mile-long front to the ocean, in this case the Amundsen Sea. Recent srudies have suggested that warm waters at extreme depths are causing a major glacial retreat that could be “unstoppable,” in the words of NASA. link

June 2016: Long overlooked area of Antarctica sees major ice loss. Over the past few years, the evidence has piled up that glaciers in parts of Antarctica have been melting and retreating at an increasingly worrying, and potentially unstoppable, pace. Now, new research shows that glaciers in a region of West Antarctica that has received relatively little attention to date have lost a considerable amount of ice. And that ice melt and retreat has been going on for decades, longer than previously thought. link

May 2016: Antarctic ‘sleeping giant’ glacier may lift sea levels two metres. The rapidly melting Totten Glacier (roughly the size of France) in East Antarctica is on track to lift oceans at least two metres, and could soon pass a "tipping point" of no return say researchers. To date, scientists have mostly worried about the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets as dangerous drivers of sea level rise. But the new study has identified a third major threat to hundreds of millions of people living in coastal areas around the world. link 

May 2016:
Antarctica losing 92 billion tons of ice per year. The latest data 
from the GRACE project, twin satellites that measure mass using gravity data, say Antarctica is losing about 92 billion tons of ice per year, with that rate having doubled from 2003 to 2014.  Antarctica is vast, 1.5 times the size of the United States, with ice three miles thick in places, and holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by roughly 200 feet.  link

February 2016: Another troubling fact about Antarctica’s ice. In a new study, researchers provide a new way of looking at how vulnerable Antarctica’s ice is, and it largely reinforces the conclusions of prior studies. To understand the new research, you first have to understand a truly astonishing feature of Antarctica that is virtually without rival anywhere else - it is ringed with gigantic ice shelves. These are sometimes country-sized sheets of ice extending out over the surface of the ocean and floating on top of it. link

May 2015: Antarctic peninsula in ‘dramatic’ ice loss. The ice streams were broadly stable up until 2009, since when they have been losing on the order of 56 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean. The total loss of ice per year is about 60 cubic km. link

May 2014: West Antarctica ice sheet collapse will change world's coastline. The sea level rise caused by west Antarctica collapsing will change the coastline of the whole world. It's long been known there's this potential threat. But until now, it wasn't clear if the ice sheet there was genuinely unstable. They're talking about a whole extra chunk of sea level rise which wasn’t included in the recent IPCC report, and if you take the higher numbers here it doubles previous sea level rise expectations. link

April 2013: Summer ice is melting at a faster rate in the Antarctic than at any time in the last 1,000 yearslink

November 2012: Ice loss study definitive. More than 4 trillion tonnes of ice from Greenland and Antarctica has melted in the past 20 years and flowed into the oceans, pushing up sea levels, according to a study that provides the best measure to date of the effect climate change is having on the earth's biggest ice sheets. The study shows the melting of the two giant ice sheets has caused the seas to rise by more than 11mm in 20 years. It also found Greenland is losing ice mass at five times the rate of the early 1990s. link

September 2012: Climate Central reports sea ice around Antarctica is growing (while ice sheets melt accelerates). The overall extent of Antarctic ice has grown by about 1% per decade on average, since satellite records began a little over 30 years ago. The 1% growth per decade in the Antarctic pales next to the much faster 15.5% drop per decade in the Arctic. They aren’t even in the same ballpark. Not only that: while the sea ice bordering Antarctica has been growing slightly, the massive ice sheets that sit directly atop the frozen continent are shrinking at an accelerating rate, with worrisome implications for global sea level rise. Still, if the planet is warming, how can the sea ice be expanding in the waters surrounding Antarctica in the first place? Keeping in mind that it isn’t expanding by much, scientists offer several possible explanations. One is that there’s been more precipitation in recent decades (which itself could well be due to global warming). That puts a cap of relatively fresh water atop the denser, saltier water below, and in winter, when that top layer cools, it stays on top rather than mixing with the warmer water underneath, thus encouraging the growth of ice. link  

August 2012: Antarctic may host methane stores. A vast reservoir of the potent greenhouse gas methane, that could amount to 4 billion tonnes, may be locked beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, a study suggests. The gas could be released into the atmosphere if enough of the ice melts away, adding to global warming. Research indicates that ancient deposits of organic matter may have been converted to methane by microbes living in low-oxygen conditions. The organic material dates back to a period 35m years ago when the Antarctic was much warmer than it is today and teeming with life. link

April 2012: Antarctic ice-shelves eroding from below. Warm ocean currents flowing beneath ice shelves are the main cause of recent ice loss from Antarctica, concludes a study by an international research team. The finding brings scientists closer to providing reliable projections of future sea level rise. Using measurements from NASA's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite, ICESat, in combination with computer models, the researchers were able to distinguish between warm ocean currents thawing the ice sheets from below and warm air melting them from above. "We can lose an awful lot of ice to the sea without ever having summers warm enough to make the snow on top of the glaciers melt," said the lead author of the British Antarctic Survey team.  "The oceans can do all the work from below." link

January 2010: Major Antarctic glacier is 'past its tipping point' and is irreversibly on track to lose 50% of its ice in as little as 100 years, significantly raising global sea levels. link
August 2009: One of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is thinning four times faster than it was 10 years ago, according to research seen by the BBC. A study of satellite measurements of Pine Island glacier in west Antarctica reveals the surface of the ice is now dropping at a rate of up to 16m a year. Since 1994, the glacier has lowered by as much as 90 meters, which has serious implications for sea-level rise. Calculations based on the rate of melting 15 years ago had suggested the glacier would last for 600 years. But the new data points to a lifespan for the vast ice stream of only another 100 yearslink

Larsen C ice-shelf.
January 2017: Biggest ever ice-shelf about to break off.
A vast
iceberg with an area almost the size of Delaware is poised to break off Antarctica. Ice shelves are areas of ice floating on the sea, several hundred metres thick, at the end of glaciers. A rift, slowly developing across the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula in recent years, expanded abruptly last month – it is now more than 80 km long with just 20 km left before it snaps, scientists said. link

Larsen B ice-shelf. Ice shelves themselves do not contribute directly to sea level rise because they are floating on the ocean and they already displace the same volume of water. But when the ice shelves collapse the glaciers that feed them speed up and get thinner, so they supply more ice to the oceans. Study on Larsen B 
May 2015: Larsen B ice shelf a few years from disintegration. The last intact section of one of Antarctica’s mammoth ice shelves is weakening fast and will likely disintegrate completely in the next few years, contributing further to rising sea levels, according to a Nasa study. The Larsen B Ice Shelf, has existed for at least 10,000 years but, partially collapsed in 2002. Once that happens, glaciers held in place by the ice shelf will slip into the ocean at a faster rate and contribute to rising sea levels, say scientists. (link) even more significant contributor to global sea level rise - on the order of perhaps 3.5-10mm in the next 20 years. Even if the region were to experience much colder conditions, the retreat would continue. PIG is a colossal feature. Covering more than 160,000 sq km (two-thirds the size of the UK), it drains something like 20% of all the ice flowing off the west of the White Continent. link

Decline of penguins in Antarctica linked with climate change
Over the past 50 years, the population of Antarctic emperor penguins has declined by 50%. Using the longest series of data available, researchers have shown that an abnormally long warm spell in the Southern Ocean during the late 1970s contributed to a decline in the population of emperor penguins at Terre Adelie, Antarctica. "We knew since the 1980s that emperor penguins had declined, but it is only today, because of the improvements of our knowledge in the climate-ocean processes, that we have been able to understand why they have decreased," said Henri Weimerskirch of the French National Center for Scientific Research in France. 
Warmer air and sea surface temperatures in the Antarctic reduce the amount of ice in the sea. This, in turn, leads to smaller populations of krill, a shrimp-like 
crustacean that is a staple of the emperor penguin's diet. With less food to eat, emperor penguins die. Despite the findings that show a negative effect of global warming on emperor penguin populations, Weimerskirch cautions against making generalizations about the impacts of climate change on wildlife. For example, a reduction in the amount of sea ice is favorable to Adelie penguins, he said. On the other hand, elephant seals and some albatross species were also negatively affected by the prolonged warming period in the 1970s . link         
August 2016: New research shows penguins will suffer in a warming world - link
More about Antarctic penguins - link  

The Arctic

The polar region is the area of the world that has seen the most profound effects of climate change in recent decades. Average year-round temperatures in the Arctic are 3C higher than they were in the pre-industrial era, snowfall is heavier, winds are stronger and the ice sheet has been shrinking for 30 years. link  (August 2016: Historical data shows Arctic melt of last two decades is 'unprecedented'.  link)

July 2016: Arctic sea ice record low for June. The summer sea ice cover over the Arctic raced towards oblivion in June, crashing through previous records to reach a new all-time low. The Arctic sea ice extent was a staggering 260,000 sq km (100,000 sq miles) below the previous record for June, set in 2010. And it was 1.36m sq km (525,000 sq miles) below the 1981-2010 long-term average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That means a vast expanse of ice, an area about twice the size of Texas, has vanished over the past 30 years, and the rate of that retreat has accelerated. link

Methane release from Arctic.

July  2013: Arctic methane “time bomb” could cost $60 trillion. Researchers estimate that the climate effects of the release of methane gas could cost $60 trillion, roughly the size of the global economy in 2012. The impacts are most likely to be felt in developing countries. Scientists have had concerns about the impact of rising temperatures on permafrost for many years. Large amounts of methane are concentrated in the frozen Arctic tundra but are also found as semi-solid gas hydrates under the sea. Results are based on the impact of 50 gigatonnes of methane release over a decade. link

May 2012: Arctic melt releasing ancient methane. Scientists have identified thousands of sites in the Arctic where methane that has been stored for many millennia is bubbling into the atmosphere.  link

August 2010: Arctic ice melt to cost up to $24 trillion by 2050. Arctic ice melting could cost global agriculture, real estate and insurance from $2.4 trillion to $24 trillion by 2050 in damage from rising sea levels, floods and heatwaves according to economist Eban Goodstein who co-authored a report called “Arctic Treasure, Global Assets Melting Away.” The report, reviewed by scientists and economists provides the first attempt to monetize the cost of the loss of one of the world’s great weather makers. link  

November 2013: Leading scientist says Arctic oil spill is certain if drilling goes ahead. link 

An NSIDC (US National Snow and Ice Data Center) Arctic specialist said “If you asked me a couple of years ago when the Arctic could lose all of its ice then I would have said 2100, or 2070 maybe. But now I think that 2030 is a reasonable estimate. It seems that the Arctic is going to be a very different place within our lifetimes, and certainly within our children's’ lifetimes.” link  

February 2013: Arctic sea ice now one-fifth of its 1980 level.  The key conclusion of the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) is that Arctic sea ice volume has been collapsing much faster than sea ice area (or extent) because the ice has been getting thinner and thinner. Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36% in the autumn and 9% in the winter between 2003 and 2012. link

August 2016: What does an ice-free Arctic mean?  Each year chance events can give a boost to ice cover or take some away. The overall trend is a very strong downward one, however. Most people expect this year will see a record low in the Arctic’s summer sea-ice cover. Next year or the year after that, I think it will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free. You will be able to cross over the north pole by ship. There will still be about a million square kilometres of ice in the Arctic in summer but it will be packed into various nooks and crannies along the Northwest Passage and along bits of the Canadian coastline. Ice-free means the central basin of the Arctic will be ice-free and I think that that is going to happen in summer 2017 or 2018. link

July 2013: Ice-free Arctic pinpointed 40 years ahead. The melting of the Arctic icecap has become so fast and so certain that researchers can now confidently predict when the ocean will become ice-free, to within four years.  People have been warning about an ice-free Arctic ocean for years.  Jiping Liu, an atmospheric scientist at the State University of New York in Albany in the US and colleagues predict that the Arctic Ocean will be effectively free of ice for the first time in the month of September between 2054 and 2058. From 1979 to 2001, the ice cap dwindled by more than 6% per decade, and in 2001 began melting twice as fast, The ice melt broke all previous records in 2007, and in 2012 did it again, reaching an all-time low. link

May 2013: Arctic seas rapidly becoming more acidic. Scientists from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) monitored widespread changes in ocean chemistry in the region, saying that even if CO2 emissions stopped now, it would take tens of thousands of years for Arctic Ocean chemistry to revert to pre-industrial levels. It is well known that CO2 warms the planet, but less well-known that it also makes the alkaline seas more acidic when it is absorbed from the air. link

August 2012: Arctic sea ice reaches record low. (The sea ice extent at 26 August (white) is markedly different from the 1979-2000 average (orange line)
The Arctic has lost more sea ice this year than at any time since satellite records began in 1979 according to Nasa, This summer ice volume is now only 30% of what it was in the 1980’s. Measurements from submarines have shown that it has lost at least 40% of its thickness since the 1980s, and if you consider the shrinkage as well it means that the summer ice volume is now only 30% of what it was in the 1980s. link  

July 2012: Loss of Arctic sea ice 70% man-made.The radical decline in sea ice around the Arctic at least 70%, and may even be up to 95%, due to human-induced climate change.  A climate system called the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation (AMO) is a dominant source of variability in ice extent - a cycle of warming and cooling in the North Atlantic that repeats every 65 to 80 years – it has been in a warming phase since the mid-1970s. Only between 5% and 30% of the Arctic ice loss could be attributed to the AMO. link

May 2011: Arctic - an irreversible climate "tipping point" could occur within the next 20 yearslink    

December 2013: Arctic cyclones more common than previously thought. From 2000 to 2010, about 1,900 cyclones churned across the top of the world each year, leaving warm water and air in their wakes, and melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. That's about 40% more than previously thought, according to a new analysis of these Arctic storms. A 40% difference in the number of cyclones could be important to anyone who lives north of 55 degrees. link

February 2012: NASA says the oldest Arctic ice disappearing fastest. link

Polar bears are not evenly distributed throughout the Arctic, nor do they comprise a single nomadic cosmopolitan population, but rather occur in 19 relatively discrete subpopulations. There is however an uncertainty about the discreteness of the less studied subpopulations, particularly in the Russian Arctic and neighbouring areas, due to very restricted data on live capture and tagging. The PBSG first provided a global population range estimate for polar bears in 1993. The range specified at that time, 21,470-28,370 polar bears.   Source

(April 2015) As Arctic ice dwindles, theories that polar bears can adapt their fat-heavy diet are debunked - link

May 2010: Polar bears face 'tipping point' due to climate change. Latest study concludes that climate change will trigger a dramatic and sudden decline in the number of polar bears. The research (published in the journal Biological Conservation) is the first to directly model how changing climate will affect polar bear reproduction and survival. These changes will happen suddenly as bears pass a 'tipping point'.  link

August 2009: Stress is shrinking polar bear size.  In a new study (Journal of Zoology), scientists compared bear skulls from the early 20th century with those from the latter half of the century describing changes in size and shape that could be linked an increase in pollution and the reduction in sea ice. Physical "stress" caused by pollutants in the bears' bodies, and the increased effort needed to find food, could limit the animals' growth, the team said. Polar bears are one of the most polluted mammals on the globe according to Christian Sonne, University of Aarhus. link 

December 2012: Polar bear threat – hunting or global warming? Some activists say the market for rugs and ornaments made from the bears is driving them to extinction. But others argue that the most pressing problem for the species is climate change and the disappearance of polar ice. Every year around 600 bears are legally killed by hunters in Canada. In the five years up to 2012 there has been a 375% increase in the number of polar bear skins offered at auction, some selling for as much as $12,000. The Humane Society International/UK says that polar bears have been brought to a tipping point by climate change but that increased hunting in recent years is pushing the species "beyond the brink". link

June 2011: The truth about polar bears and climate change.  link   :

Final note - U.S. spy satellites reveal the secret evidence of global warming Bush tried to hide - link

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