On thin ice

I recently watched the BBC series ‘Frozen planet’, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. As I watched the first six episodes, I will admit to feeling a bit disappointed that there was no mention of any changes brought about by global climate change. However, it seems they were just saving it up; in episode 7, they finally looked at the melting of the polar ice caps and what it means, not just for the wildlife, but for people too.

One of the changes that the Frozen Planet team witnessed was the break-up of the 200m thick Wilkins ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula. The Wilkins ice shelf was about 16,000km2 (similar in size to Yorkshire, England) before it started breaking apart in 2008. You can go here to read more about what Dan Rees, the producer of the ‘On Thin Ice’ episode, had to say.

NASA has produced a visualisation showing the dramatic loss of thick, multiyear sea ice cover in the Arctic. Here’s the graph they came up with, showing changes from 1980 to 2012. I added a red line to highlight the trend, just in case it wasn’t already abundantly clear.

Now you may be thinking, ‘so what, who cares?’ What happens in the Arctic, stays in the Arctic, right? Sadly, no. Apparently the Arctic warming is changing the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east. One of the effects the Arctic warming has on the jet stream is to slow it down. And this means that droughts and heat waves will hang around longer than they used to. Like the heat wave that hit the US in March this year. So Arctic warming is no longer just affecting the polar bears… it’s affecting the weather in the US and Europe too.

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