Now you see them. Now you don’t.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, human-caused global warming has led to the complete disappearance of two once-massive ice caps in the Arctic.
Satellite imagery from NASA showed Canada’s St. Patrick Bay ice caps in clarity just a few decades ago. Today, images from the same point of view show miles of open sea.
NSIDC director Mark Serreze recalls studying the ice caps in the 1980s when he was a student, the New York Post reports.
“When I first visited those ice caps, they seemed like such a permanent fixture of the landscape,” he said. “To watch them die in less than 40 years just blows me away.”
Serreze published a paper in The Cryosphere in 2017 that gave the ice caps another 5 years before disappearing completely. The growing climate crisis proved his prediction two years early.
“In 2017, scientists compared ASTER satellite data from July 2015 to vertical aerial photographs taken in August of 1959. They found that between 1959 and 2015, the ice caps had been reduced to only five percent of their former area, and shrank noticeably between 2014 and 2015 in response to the especially warm summer in 2015,” reports the NSIDC. “The ice caps are absent from ASTER images taken on July 14, 2020.”
The absence of the ice caps marks more than just a sentimental loss for a team of Canadian scientists. This is bad news for the entire world.
“We’ve long known that as climate change takes hold, the effects would be especially pronounced in the Arctic,” Serreze said. “But the death of those two little caps that I once knew so well has made climate change very personal. All that’s left are some photographs and a lot of memories.”
The St. Patrick Bay ice caps once comprised half of a group of small ice caps on the Hazen Plateau, the NSIDC reports, and formed during the Little Ice Age, which took place from about 1300 to about 1850.
Now only the Murray and Simmons ice caps remain on the Hazen Plateau. As the Arctic continues to grow warmer, their days may now be numbered.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.