Arctic Ice Cap: A New Record Low

Right about now is the time of year when the Arctic ice field reaches its maximum extent – its largest size.  Forty years ago that meant that it reached a size of well over 16 million square kilometers.  Since that time (and since we have had accurate satellite measurement), the arctic ice field has steadily gotten smaller and smaller in area.  Today, according to the Japanese Aerospace agency, the arctic ice field is 13.664 million square kilometers in size, down from very nearly 14 million square kilometers at the end of February.  This amounts to a 17% reduction in area – seemingly a small decline.  At the minimum extent for the season, reached about the third week of September, decreases in area covered have reached about 25% over the same time period.

These losses in area covered seem small over a period of 40 years, but then they are misleading metrics, because the size of the field is only one measurement – the depth of the field must also be taken into account, resulting in a cubic kilometers measurement for arctic ice.  It is by looking at this measurement that we see the true extent of the ice loss in the arctic.  Ice across the arctic has thinned significantly, dropping by an average of 65% and in places dropping by more than 80%.  By combining the loss in area with the loss in thickness, we arrive at a net loss in volume of 71% at maximum extent and by 74% at minimum extent.  And the losses are accelerating, as can readily be seen by clicking here.

Many ask, “So what?  Why care about a bunch of ice?  It is illogical to care about trivial things.”  Ironically, this question  very frequently comes from people who really, really care about a bunch of guys in tights running around on a field ( Sorry.  Couldn’t help myself).  The reason changes in ice extent are important and worth caring about is because the cryosphere (the area of frozen surface on the earth) interacts with all other systems.  Changes in the cryosphere bring about changes in the atmosphere, in our jet stream, and consequently in our weather, in our ocean currents, etc.  These changes ripple through all earth systems and then into the industrial and economic basis of our global society.

Put in its simplest form, changes in our earth systems slowly but inevitably result in profound stress to human society that is manifested as hunger, disease, and conflict.  How?  The pathways vary but, again, in its simplest form, disruptions to our climate system and its various components leads to changes in weather which undermine our global industrial food production system, in turn causing hunger among those with limited resources (which is the vast majority of human population).  Hunger is either preceded or followed by disease.  Too much heat or too much water or too little water introduces opportunities for new diseases (or diseases once thought conquered) to spread in populations.  hunger and disease are either preceded or followed by conflict among people groups or among states, such conflict usually introduced by ideology or resource shortages.  A prime current example of this scenario is Syria.  Another prime current example of this scenario is Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Yes, Sao Paulo, where massive and continuing drought forms the most serious population-wide resource threat we have seen in recent times.  Some 26 million people have only a few months worth of water and no viable “Plan B”.  The rainy season is ending in Sao Paulo and the water level in reservoirs has barely budged – they are at about 10%.  Conflict and society-wide suffering has ensued as authorities have reduced pressure in water pipes to a point where many people get no water at all for days on end.  Sanitation has suffered markedly and so has the water-hungry industry.  The agricultural sector has, well, wilted.  And desperate people who are collecting rain water in any container available have created an ideal breeding environment for mosquitos.  As a result, massive new cases of denge fever and chikungunya and creating significant fear in the population.

No earth system operates in isolation.  An no earth system is excess or unimportant to the continued functioning of human society.  As we look at the multitude of danger signals all around us, and as we see the accelerating decline of natural systems more and more aggressively impact human society, bear in mind that the impacts on human society are exactly – exactly – what Christ said would be happening on a global basis just before His return.  Bear in mind also that what we are seeing is nothing less than the effects of sin – the effects of rebellion against God’s rule of the earth – and that decay and decline and suffering and death is the natural result of man rejecting God’s rule.

It really is as simple and obvious as that, and the world needs to be told that the clock is running out, the party is almost over, and the only hope is Christ.  Fortunately,  mercifully, this hope is offered freely to all who will accept it, even though we have done nothing to deserve it.

Scott Christiansen