Thu, Jun 20, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Arctic facing a scorching ‘annus horribilis’


Dogs pull a sledge on water-covered ice near Qaanaaq, Greenland, on Thursday last week.

Photo: Reuters / Danish Meteorological Institute / Steffen Olsen

Scientists say this year could be another annus horribilis for the Arctic with record temperatures already registered in Greenland — a giant melting icicle that threatens to submerge the world’s coastal areas.

“It’s possible that we could break the records set in 2012 for both lowest Arctic sea ice extent ... and for record high Greenland ice sheet melt,” said Ruth Mottram, a climatologist at the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI). “It is very much dependent on weather conditions this year.”

A striking photograph of the early ice melt taken last week by a DMI scientist in northwestern Greenland has gone viral.

While researching oceanographic moorings and a weather station, Steffen Olsen took a photograph of his sled dogs pushing through a fjord, the sea ice submerged under several centimeters of meltwater.

Under a bright blue sky, with a snow-free mountain in the background, the dogs appear to be walking on water.

“The picture is striking ... because it really visualizes how the Arctic is changing,” Mottram said.

Locals who accompanied Olsen’s expedition “didn’t expect the sea ice to start melting that early. They usually take that route because the ice is very thick, but they had to turn back because the water was deeper and deeper, and they couldn’t” advance, she said.

On Wednesday last week, the day before the photograph was taken, the closest weather station, in Qaanaaq, registered temperatures of 17.3°C, just 0.3°C lower than the record set on June 30, 2012.

“There was a dry winter and then recently [there has been] warm air, clear skies and sun — all preconditions for an early melting,” Mottram said.

As the atmosphere heats up, the phenomenon is expected to accelerate, changing the way of life for the local population — who will see shorter hunting seasons on the ice on which they depend for their survival — as well as an altered ecosystem.

The number of polar bears in the Arctic has decreased by about 40 percent in the past decade due the shrinking ice, according to the US Geological Survey.

Narwhals — whales with a large unicorn-like tusk, found in the Arctic — are seeing their natural ice shelter from their main predator, killer whales, dwindle.

The melting sea ice is one thing, but it is the melting of the ice sheet and glaciers that has a direct impact on rising sea levels worldwide.

Greenland’s “Summit Station,” located at an altitude of 3,000m, on April 30 recorded the warmest temperature in its history, at minus-1.2°C, the DMI said.

On Monday, Greenland lost 3.7 billion tonnes of ice in a single day, it said.

Since early this month, 37 billion tonnes of ice have melted, said Xavier Fettweis, a climatologist at the University of Liege in Belgium.

“It becomes more and more likely that a record of mass loss will be broken for the month of June in 2019,” he wrote on Twitter.

Also a concern is how early in the year the ice is melting.

Danish meteorologists announced the ice melting season had begun at the start of last month, almost a month earlier than usual.

The ice melt has only begun before early last month once — in 2016 — since data began being collected in 1980.

“The start of the melt season occurs on the first of three consecutive days where more than 5 percent of the ice sheet has melted at the surface,” scientist Peter Langen said on the Web site, which collects data from several Danish scientific institutions in the Arctic.

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