An Arctic largely devoid of ice, giant methane outbursts causing tsunamis in the North Atlantic, and global sea levels rising by several meters by mid-century sound like the stuff of science fiction.
But to a growing number of scientists studying Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD/climate change), these dramatic predictions are very real possibilities in our not-so-distant future, thanks to the vanishing Arctic ice cap, which is continuing its rapid decrease in both volume and area.
Arctic sea ice researchers are predicting that sea ice will no longer last through summers in the next couple of years, and even US Navy researchers have predicted an ice-free Arctic by 2016. Whichever year the phenomenon begins, it will be the first time humans have existed on Earth without year-round sea ice in the Arctic, and scientists warn that this is when “abrupt climate change” passes the point of no return.
“In the first year that this happens, the open Arctic Ocean state will only last for a few weeks to a month or so,” Paul Beckwith, a climatology and meteorology professor at the University of Ottawa, Canada, told Truthout. “Within a year or two, the open water duration [no sea ice] will last for several months, and within a decade or so the positive feedbacks will likely clear out the Arctic Ocean basin for most of the year.”
Beckwith, an engineer and physicist who is also researching abrupt climate change in both present day and in the paleo records of the deep past, warns that losing the Arctic sea ice will create a state that “will represent a very different planet, with a much higher global average temperature, as much as 5 to 6 degrees C warmer within a few decades, in which snow and ice in the northern hemisphere becomes very rare or even vanishes year round.”
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science, whose reports influence policy and planning decisions of national governments across the world, has just released its latest report. The IPCC has been accused by much of the scientific community of having a starkly conservative bias.
Scientific American has said of the IPCC: “Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent.”
However, the recently released IPCC report is raising eyebrows: Even this conservative body is predicting dire threats for people and other species in the near future, and these risks may very well mean “abrupt or drastic changes” that could lead to unstoppable and irreversible climate shifts like the melting of both the Arctic ice cap and Greenland’s glacial ice.
According to the IPCC report, the polar bear is not alone in being under threat.
“The polar bear is us,” says Patricia Romero Lankao of the federally financed National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, referring to the first species to be listed as threatened by global warming due to melting sea ice.
Beckwith, who believes the planet is already in the early stages of abrupt ACD, offered grave predictions of what we might expect from losing the Arctic ice.
“As the planet transitions through this abrupt climate change, there will be wrenching turmoil and conflict for human civilizations,” he explained. “As the extreme weather events ramp up this will result in a frenzy of human activity to attempt to adapt and mitigate. Essentially, this tipping point in the Arctic will inevitably result in a tipping point in human response to the problem.”