Arctic Ice Extent Sets Another Record Low

Nature |


In terms of square miles, the Arctic Sea ice extent has hit a record low average for the month of June. The last June low point was back in 2010. In June of 2016, the extent is reduced by at least another hundred thousand square miles. The average rate of ice loss for June of this year is anywhere from 17,000 to 22,000 square miles a day (depending on which news report you choose to believe). 

For the first half of the month of June, things looked almost promising, as the rate of ice loss seemed to have slowed down a bit. But as the month of June wore on, things started speeding up again. The speed of ice loss reflects an atmospheric pattern. That is why an average is taken. The average ice extent for June 2016 was just over four million square miles, which is about 100,000 square miles below the previous record low.

So far, March is the only month in 2016 that has not set the record for low sea ice extent, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Even March this year was second lowest.

How do they know this? Well, for one thing, aerial views of the Arctic sea extent are photographed several times a day from NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites, using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) equipment. These instruments track the seasonal progression of surface melting. This is especially easy during summer months, which happen in December, as the entire region is sunlit. The darkened areas of these photos represent "ponding." The whitened areas are the ice extent. There is also a Sea Ice Index, which reports on the extent and thickness of sea ice. The Sea Ice Index has provided sea ice images and statistical values since 1979. It has recently been updated to version 2.

Whatever may be the case, the Arctic region (and, for that matter, the world) is getting hotter. Mankind will eventually have to invent new, drought resistant crops. People in Africa suffer the worst from drought seasons. As the droughts worsen, the time between planting a crop and harvesting it (also know as the crop duration) will shorten. This will lead to a lighter yield. In other words, less food.

Some of these findings appeared in a journal called Nature Climate Change. According to Andy Challinor, a lead author of the "crop duration" study, and professor of climate impacts at the University of Leeds, "High temperatures mean shorter durations and hence less biomass and yield."

The research team developed a best case and worst case scenario, based on conditions such as farming data, markets, agricultural technologies, temperature trends, and precipitation rates. The worst case scenario is a near future where crop demand hugely outweighs the supply. The poor will suffer hardest from this effect. In the best case scenario, researchers will produce heat resistant, drought resistant crops over the next ten years. The development of these crop varieties will be crucial to future food production. 

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