SAN FRANCISCO— The National Snow and Ice Data Center is reporting that Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its winter maximum for the year, which has tied 2006 for the lowest in the satellite record. Arctic sea ice in Dec., Jan. and Feb. (tied with 2005) also reached record lows as winter temperatures across much of the Arctic were anomalously warm, reaching 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 6 degrees Celsius) above normal in Jan.
The news comes just as Congress is set to return from its spring recess and debate a number of moves to gut the Clean Air Act, our foremost tool to slow global warming now.
“The meltdown of winter sea ice is yet another sign that climate change is underway, and yet some members of Congress continue to deny it, preferring to preserve polluters’ profits over saving the future of our planet as we know it,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
The many congressional attacks on the Clean Air Act include Fred Upton’s (R-Mich.) legislation to repeal Clean Air Act protections aimed at slowing the buildup of dangerous carbon dioxide pollution, which recently passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ken.) introduction of the same language as an amendment to an unrelated small business bill in the Senate (S.493); and Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) attempt to delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s implementation of Clean Air Act protections to reduce carbon emissions by two years.
“We possess the technology to curb greenhouse pollution and slow global warming now,” said Wolf. “New and updated Clean Air Act standards for carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide will spur additional technological innovation, create jobs, save lives and slow the melting of the Arctic sea ice — but not unless Congress lets the EPA do its job.”
Arctic sea ice reaches its largest extent in winter, when conditions are coldest. However, in a rapidly warming Arctic, even the hardier, thicker winter sea ice has been declining at a rate of about 3 percent per decade, and much more rapidly than climate models have predicted. According to the Data Center, the sea-ice maximum on Mar. 7 was 471,000 square miles (1.2 million square kilometers) below the 1979 to 2000 average — an 8 percent decline
Polar bears, ice seals, walruses and other Arctic animals rely on the sea ice for survival. They are struggling as they lose the ice they need for hunting, resting and raising their young. In January, researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska reported they had tracked a female polar bear’s record nine-day swim to reach an ice floe 426 miles offshore. The bear lost 22 percent of her body weight and her year-old cub.
Arctic sea ice also plays a critical role in regulating our global climate by reflecting sunlight and keeping the polar regions cool; it has declined dramatically over the past 30 years.