“Out of time: Arctic ice goes the way of the Dodo bird by 2035”

Natacha Poggio is a strong advocate of sustainability and environmental issues, and is highly concerned with the direction we are going towards sustaining our planet. For the 2012 Annual Hartford Art School Faculty Show, held at the Joseloff Gallery, University of Hartford in 2012, Natacha utilized information from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports to create these Arctic maps showing the area covered by sea ice for September (white) relative to the median ice extent (red dotted line) for the period 1979-2012. The recent years represent a unique event because they show a year-to-year persistence of minimum ice extents.

  • Concept

    In the Arctic ocean, the area covered by sea ice grows and shrinks over the course of the year, reaching its maximum extent during wintertime (early March) and shrinking to its minimum extent in September (once spring arrives with more sunlight and higher temperatures). The five smallest summer minimums have occurred in the past five years (2007-2011), and the past decade (2002-2011) has experienced nine out of the ten lowest ice extents. Just in 2012, nearly half (49%) of the icecap was gone during this year’s minimum, compared to the average minimum for the years 1979–2000. This loss is an area approximately 43% of the size of the contiguous United States. Research shows that the Arctic ice melt in the past few decades is unprecedented for at least the past 1,450 years. We may have to go back to at least 4,000 B.C. to find the last time so little summer ice was present in the Arctic.

    While we have been aware that increased temperatures on Earth would lead to changes most pronounced in the Arctic region, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur. I am disheartened by the news of the massive decrease in the amount of Arctic sea ice that has happened this summer, with the most ice melting away on September 16, 2012. The news coverage focused on the reality that the extent of Arctic sea ice had reached its lowest level since satellite-based measurements began in the late 1970s. While this disturbing fact was widely reported, the implications and effects of such a dramatic decline in the extent of Arctic sea ice have seemed relatively muted. For those of us seriously concerned about environmental issues, the dramatic and shifting conditions of the polar region are evidence of a disconcerting trend: Arctic sea ice is melting much faster than even the best climate models had projected. Some models suggested sea ice will disappear by 2100; but after this year’s mark, most experts are calling for a summertime ice-free Arctic by 2030. It is hard to believe that over the course of my lifetime, human activities causing global warming are leading to these catastrophic effects.

    [Most of] the scientific community agreed that the warming atmosphere and extreme weather patterns are accelerated by man-made climate change, especially due to the high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which have been rising rapidly as we burn fossil fuels and change land use. Today, our planet has about 392 parts per million CO2—instead of 350, which is the safe upper limit for CO2—and this number is rising by about 2 ppm every year. Moreover, as the summer melt season lengthens and intensifies, there is less sea ice at summer’s end. Over 40% of the thick sea ice that was built up over many winters (nearly 10 feet thick), has melted and is replaced with thinner ice formed in a single year. Once this process has started, it is difficult to reverse, and even under normal climate conditions would take centuries to reestablish. Besides the unscrupulous companies that sprang up to exploit the new shipping routes and easier access to natural resources, the impacts of dwindling ice cover in the Arctic are far-reaching: from 17 Arctic species on the verge of extinction as well as indigenous communities forced to relocate south, to enhanced global warming and rising sea-levels.