Climate Change

11 ways to see how climate change threatens the Arctic

Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic is seen in a NASA Operation IceBridge survey picture taken March 25, 2014. IceBridge is a six-year NASA airborne mission which will provide a yearly, multi-instrument look at the behavior of the Greenland and Antarctic ice, according to NASA.  Picture taken March 25, 2014.   REUTERS/NASA/Michael Studinger/Handout  (CANADA - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT)  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTR3KGVN

Visualising and mapping the data is an effective way to show the impact of climate change around the North Pole. Image: REUTERS/NASA/Michael Studinger/Handout

Simon Torkington
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Climate Change

The data is irrefutable and sobering: climate change is very real and it is happening now. Nowhere is change more evident than the Arctic, where the warming has been taking place more quickly than on the rest of the planet.

Still faced with scepticism, how are scientists driving home the message? Visualising and mapping the data is an effective way to show the impact of climate change around the North Pole. These are 11 ways to see how the Arctic is changing.

1. "Sea ice extent" is a measure of how much of an ocean is covered by ice, and it’s a key feature of the polar climate system. Sea ice cover hit an all-time low in 2012.This chart is a good way to show incremental change and trends:

Monthly Arctic sea ice extent from 1979 to 2014
Image: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

2. To help explain the monthly variation above, this chart shows changes in sea ice extent by percentage throughout the year:

Image: NASA'S Earth Observatory

3. These four maps of the Arctic show the ice shrinking over the years:

Four maps of the Arctic from National Geographic Atlases, published between 1999 and 2014
Image: National Geographic Maps

4. Climate change scientist Ed Hawkins created a spiral of sea ice volume from 1979 and 2016, allowing us to see the shrinking ice trend year on year.

Image: Climate Lab book

5. Rising temperatures are the problem. This picture shows the temperature between October 2010 and September 2011 and red indicates where it was higher than the average of the past three decades. This confirms scientists’ estimates that the the Arctic is warming as much as two or three times faster than the rest of the planet:

Image: NOAA

6. Temperature increases in the Arctic are a result of bright ice reflecting more solar radiation than dark ocean waters. When ice melts, oceans absorb more radiation, causing in turn further warming, which leads to more ice melting. This graphic map shows the areas where this was very visible:

Image: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

Red indicates an increase in solar radiation absorption between 2000 and 2014. The darkest red areas correspond to where reflective sea ice has declined, exposing darker ocean water.

7. Scientists are particularly concerned with loss of perennial ice, the oldest and thickest type of ice, which works as a buffer between Summer melts. Satellite imaging shows this decline very clearly:

Older Perennial Arctic Sea Ice Declined Between 1984 and 2016.

8. The average depth of the Arctic ice has been decreasing dramatically as this NASA animated graphic illustrates:


9. The Arctic is becoming green for longer periods of the year. This map based on satellite measurements shows the changes from 1982 to 2012:

Image: NOAA

10. This map shows how warmer temperatures affect polar bears. Different environmental conditions affect polar bear populations in different ways, but overall the species is threatened as declining sea ice means they're unable to hunt seals:

Image: NOAA

11. These graphics forecast new shipping routes created by Arctic ice melting up to 2095 in a scenario of low carbon emissions and high carbon emissions. The Arctic Ocean could become a shortcut between Pacific and Atlantic ports by the end of this century. Pink lines represent routes by ships equipped for ice and blue show regular open water ships:

Image: Melia et al, Geophysical Research Letters
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