DID THE BERING SEA FORGOT TO FREEZE?

DID THE BERING SEA FORGOT TO FREEZE?

Humans are passing through a dramatic transformation of the planet’s surface due to climate change, the most obvious sign being the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice. And now, imaging revealed a striking new chapter: The Bering Sea, which under normal circumstances should remain frozen-over until May, was almost entirely free of ice in early April.

WE WILL MISS THE BEST CLIMATE REGULATOR

Now, what makes this event so stunning – as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explained – is that the Arctic sea ice should have reached its annual maximum in April, when the summer reduction in sea ice normally only begins . And that process has, throughout recorded history, left the region between Russia and Alaska frozen at this time of year. But 2019 already has the lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record – beating 2018, which was also a record-breaker. And that’s manifesting in an unseasonably liquid sea off the northwest coast of Alaska.

The dramatic ice-melt in the Arctic won’t drive up sea levels directly. That ice was already floating in the ocean, so it already counted toward the ocean’s total volume. But the melting will have tangible effects both on the planet’s climate and on the people and economies that rely on the Arctic region.

We know that surface ice acts as a kind of climate regulator. The surface of ice is bright white, so it reflects sunlight back into space. When the planet has lots of ice on its surface, less of the sun’s energy stays on Earth, so the whole planet warms slower. But open water is far darker and absorbs more sunlight, turning it into heat. Because sea ice loss is caused by climate change, it also determines speeding it up.

THE WORLD WILL NOT BE AS WE KNOW IT

At this point, the decline in Arctic sea ice is likely to continue for a long time. But the question of how far that decline will go is wrapped up in questions of how much carbon and other greenhouse gases humans continue to pump into the atmosphere — behaviors that lead to planet warming and ice melt.

The sea ice loss we’re seeing now is happening in the context of a world warmed by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. A world warmed by 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) would involve even more-extreme and life-threatening changes, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A world warmed 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) would look dramatically different even from that – with longer heatwaves, less food available, and more regions of the planet becoming dangerous to inhabit. A world warmed by 3 degrees C (5.4 degrees F), would be dramatically different.

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