As we gear into the holidays in full force, we often think of family gatherings and dinners and gifts. So, it is not surprising that the North Pole is a big news item around this time of the year. Or is it? In fact, the image of Santa coming from the North Pole on his sleigh pulled by reindeer is being replaced by one of the Arctic with very little sea ice, and temperatures predicted to be above average by as much as 50°F by Christmas eve 2016.
The news is not what one would expect this time of the year
It is winter in the Arctic right now. Temperatures there average -30°F for most of this dark season, when sea ice starts to recover from summer melting, which usually reaches its extreme in September. Usually in March, sea ice has recovered enough to once again cover much of the Arctic Sea.
However, that is not what we have been seeing in the past two years. In March 2016, for the second time ever and second year in a row, sea ice extent hit a record low. Instead of expanding during the winter, sea ice was having a hard time recovering from a very low summer extent. And now that we had its second lowest summer extent in September 2016, sea ice will have a hard time recovering again.
Something fishy is happening in the Arctic
A recent study linked its abnormally high temperatures to human-caused climate change. Global warming is messing with it, and the result is not good. As my colleague explains well here, what happens in the Arctic affects the whole globe in more ways than one would think. And to make things worse, the World Meteorological Organization just released a statement, saying 2016 is on track to be the warmest year on record. The consequences can be many, and severe.
The cascading effects of a warmer Arctic go beyond the ice
As another colleague well stated here, a warming of the Arctic can have not only very significant biological and environmental consequences, but also cultural and historical ones. It is not just the sea ice that is disappearing. Whole cultures stand to lose critical information that has been passed on for generations, but with the loss of the regular cycles of sea ice, traditions are amiss.
Things are not looking too good for Santa either: not only there may not be enough ice for his sleigh to go on, his reindeer may not be big and strong enough to pull it anymore. Dire times indeed. It is therefore imperative that nations around the globe keep their emissions reductions targets pledged at the Paris agreement, so that this pattern of warming can be slowed and hopefully reversed. Santa – along with real-life Arctic communities, and indeed, the rest of the world – thank you in advance.