The fat lady’s not yet in the building, but her limo’s outside the theatre. There’s another five or six weeks of melting to go, but there’s more than just sea ice melting in the Arctic, and more than my few meagre wagers riding on how summer turns out ‘oop North. Here’s a compendium of interesting recent stuff…
A national park in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut has been closed to the public because a heat wave has brought dramatic melting – wiping out many of the park’s walking trails. The Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island (the name means The Land that Never Melts – that’s irony, folks) covers an area of over 19,000sq km. According to The Province, 21 hikers had to be evacuated. The BBC reports:
Pauline Scott, a spokeswoman for Parks Canada, told the BBC News website that after two weeks of record-breaking hot weather in June the ice had “melted at a phenomenal rate – we’ve never seen this kind of phenomenon in almost 40 years since the park was first opened”. Speaking from Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut, Ms Scott said that due to the massive amount of melting ice “huge portions of what was formerly a 60km trail in the park have completely gone”.
A little further to the North, another chunk of the Ward Hunt ice shelf has broken off. Over on Greenland a rather excitable Time journalist has been visiting the site (one, two) of the NEEM project – the North Greenland Eemian ice coring project. The new drill site hopes to uncover something none of the other Greenland cores have been able to deliver – a good record of the atmospheric and precipitation changes over Greenland at the the end of the last interglacial, 115,000 years ago. Heineken, Hendrix and ice. Sounds good to me. In the Northwest Passage, the Sydney Morning Herald’s environment editor got herself a trip on a Canadian ice breaker and dug up this quote from the NSIDC’s Mark Serreze:
“We might see an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2030 – within some of our lifetimes. [...] There are some scientists out there who think that even might be optimistic.”
Pretty much what I said in Hot Topic, but I wrote that particular passage in early 2007.
National Radio’s been providing some good coverage of ice at both ends of the planet. Last night Bryan Crump interviewed Mark Serreze about the Arctic, and had really done his research well (stream, podcast), while Insight’s Sue Ingram did a very creditable job pf pulling together most of NZ and the world’s leading Antarctic experts to discuss the state of affairs down there. My only complaint? She felt obliged to go to the NZ C”S”C’s Willem de Lange for a dissenting opinion, and then referred to everyone else as “IPCC aligned”, which gets the IPCC process precisely the wrong way round. Very worthwhile, if only to hear Richard Alley wax lyrical about flying buttresses (stream, podcast).
Other interesting news: a new paper by Christian Haas (et al) of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, reports that the ice at the North Pole at the end of the melt season last year was only 1.3m. In 2004, it was 2.6m. High resolution lake deposits at the Meerfelder Maar in Germany show that the European climate dramatically cooled in the space of a single year, 12,679 years ago [Planet Ark, DeSmogBlog]. Detailed examination of microfossils (foraminifera) from rocks 40 million years old at Hampden Beach near Moeraki shows that when the Antarctica was last ice free, and NZ was 1,000km closer to the pole, sea surface temperatures were 23-25C. No wet suits required. A little more recently, only 14 million years ago, a sudden cooling in Antarctica (8c in 200,000 years) preserved a lake ecosystem in the Dry Valleys region – the first such fossils to have been found since Scott’s first expedition discovered the valleys in 1902-3.
And the fat lady? NSIDC’s latest summary (Aug 1st) reckons that a new record is becoming less likely. On the other hand their daily update has begun to dip towards last year a little. I suspect that if the melt season is a bit longer than “normal”, we could still see a record – or close to it. Is it going to be Montserrat CaballÃ© or Freddy Mercury, or both?