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Mountain News: Withering Arctic sea ice is a concern



JASPER, Alberta — Autumnal equinox occurred on Saturday, marking the end of summer and the start of fall. But there's another divide between the seasons of melting and freezing: the breakup of ice in the Arctic Ocean and the renewed freezing.

On Sept. 19, the U.S. government's National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that sea ice had started freezing again, but that the summer melt-off was greater than the previous record set in 2007.

In 1980, the amount of ice-covered ocean was comparable to that of the continental United States. Now consider the change just from 2007 and 2012: an area larger than the entire state of Texas.

"An ice-free summer in the arctic, once projected to be more than a century away, now looks possible decades from now. Some say that it looks likely in just the next few years," points out Scientific American.

It was a hot summer across North America. Colorado and Wyoming both had their warmest summers on record — if, perhaps surprisingly, not the absolute all-time temperature in Colorado (115 degrees Fahrenheit, set in other hot, drought periods of the 1930s and 1950s; this year it got to only 110 degrees).

In Jasper National Park, the falling of a large portion of Ghost Glacier from Mount Edith Cavell during August also fits into this pattern of warming and melting.

But if no individual heatwave or drought can be blamed on global warming, it's clear enough that the rapid accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a bad, bad gamble.

Jasper's Fitzhugh newspaper does an excellent job of describing the predicament:

"Considering the extreme weather this summer, not only in the Jasper area but all over Alberta and British Columbia, we have to wonder if what scientists have been warning all along has begun to manifest in a very real way," says the Fitzhugh.

"Unfortunately, data has only been collected for a relatively short time and attempting to accurately model climate change is problematic at best. Basically, we don't know if it is normal for glaciers to break up and fall off mountains every hundred years or so. We may never see such an event repeat in our lifetime.

"Still, most people know melting ice caps will result in increased global temperatures and weather changes. Less polar ice means less reflection of the sun's heat and more absorption.

"Is the world oblivious to the greater threat?

"Power, money and religion continue to be more important than the environment, even though it is the environment that will decide all our fates one day. Why do governments and people fail to see the significance of climate change? Is it because they don't understand it or is it because they feel they can do nothing about it? Perhaps as a species, humans are incapable of looking beyond their own field of view or their own personal concerns. Perhaps climate change is simply too big of a subject to contemplate, even for politicians. Maybe it is easier to pretend the problem doesn't exist or simply leave it to others to figure out.

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