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Polar ice melt
Image: NASA

Ice melt and sea level rise accelerate

Polar weather events earlier this year have contributed to the lowest Arctic winter ice maximum since records began.  At the same time, Antarctica has the lowest summer sea ice ever recorded.  According to Maria-José Viñas from NASA’s Earth Science News Team:

“This winter, a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures, winds unfavorable to ice expansion, and a series of storms halted sea ice growth in the Arctic. This year’s maximum extent, reached on March 7 at 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers), is 37,000 square miles (97,00 square kilometers) below the previous record low, which occurred in 2015, and 471,000 square miles (1.22 million square kilometers) smaller than the average maximum extent for 1981-2010.”

Whereas the loss of Arctic ice looks like an acceleration of an established global warming trend, the Antarctic ice loss was unexpected:

“This year’s record low happened just two years after several monthly record high sea ice extents in Antarctica and decades of moderate sea ice growth.”

It is too early to say whether this means that global warming is finally impacting Antarctica, since the ice loss could be solely the result of the recent El Nino and La Nina events.  However, if the loss of sea ice to continues for several years, it could mean that global warming trends seen in the Northern Hemisphere have finally crossed the equator.  If this does prove to be the case, then sea level rise may also accelerate much faster than climate scientists have predicted.

In the USA, military strategists have called on President Trump to take sea level rise seriously because of the threat to US Naval Bases, especially the Navy’s main base on the threatened Atlantic coast at Norfolk, Virginia:

“In addition to Norfolk, flooding threatens Naval Station Mayport, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia and the Naval Academy in Maryland, where 2003’s Hurricane Isabel flooded classrooms, dormitories and athletic facilities.”

China is also experiencing record rises in sea level according to David Stanway at Reuters:

“According to an annual report published on Wednesday by China’s State Oceanic Administration, average coastal sea levels in 2016 were up 38 millimeters compared to the previous year, and saw record-breaking highs in the months of April, September, November and December.”

More than 80 percent of the world’s cities and large towns are situated on the coast or on the banks of inland estuaries; including billions of dollars’ worth of waterside real estate.  Key financial districts such as Wall Street and the City of London are located close to sea level.  Many water-intensive energy and industrial processes are also located on coasts and estuaries.  Whole countries such as Bangladesh, Fiji and Holland may disappear entirely.  This means that in the relatively near future we will begin to experience serious disruption of the global economy – something that will make Brexit, the election of Donald trump and the crash of 2008 look like mere sideshows.

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