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New NatGeo Atlas highlights shocking Arctic sea ice loss


Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, August 11, 2015, 8:52 PM - National Geographic just released their latest Atlas map of the Arctic Ocean, reflecting the shocking loss of sea ice that has occurred in the region in just over a decade.

Earlier this year, the Canadian government released their official updated map of the Arctic, adding more sea ice to the map, based on the 30 year average ice extent from 1981-2010.

Now, National Geographic has released the newest edition of their widely respected Atlas of the World, celebrating 100 years of award-winning cartography with updated maps and information. Featured in the iconic reference, their latest map of the Arctic Ocean now reflects the alarming affects of climate change on the region, showing the lowest sea ice extent in recorded history.


Animation from Atlas of the World, 7th through 10th editions, printed every 5 years from 2000 to 2015. Credit: National Geographic

"You hear reports all the time in the media about this," said National Geographic Geographer Juan José Valdés. "Until you have a hard-copy map in your hand, the message doesn't really hit home."


Credit: NSIDC

The final frame of the animation reflects the sea ice as of September 2012, when it reached its lowest extent on record - just shy of 3.39 million square kilometres, which is only around 56 per cent of what was seen in September of both 2000 and 1990, and less than 45 per cent of what it was in September 1980.

While focusing on this one single year in the new atlas has been questioned by some, they acknowledge that choosing a year afterward, such as 2013, would have underrepresented the downward trend in Arctic sea ice (shown to the right).

Despite increases, Arctic ice continues to dwindle

Since the 2012 extreme minimum was a combination of both the trend in ice loss due to global warming and a string of weather events that made the melt even worse, it was no surprise to climate scientists when the September minimum Arctic sea ice extents in 2013 and 2014 came in higher.

However, although touted as a "recovery" by those who continue to refute the evidence and accepted scientific consensus on global warming and climate change, those two years have done very little effect (if anything) to offset the overall trend of ice loss in the Arctic (shown in blue on the graph above).

What is going on now, in 2015?

In the Arctic, the 2015 melt did not start off from a good place. The maximum sea ice extent, reached in late February, was the smallest maximum extent on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Since then, the seasonal melt was briefly interrupted by some late-season growth in late March, but has been making up for lost time since. Currently, Arctic sea ice extent is the fourth lowest on record, after 2012, 2011 and 2007.

In the Antarctic, while land ice continues to dwindle, and dire predictions about the fate of western Antarctic glaciers continue, sea ice extent around the continent during the February minimum was not the largest on record, but based on data from NSIDC, it certainly ranked in the top five, and at times since it has reached record levels. Over the past month, Antarctic sea ice extent has begun to level off, approaching the 30-year average extent for the year through the first week of August.

2015 ice extents at both poles, compared to notable past years. Credit: NSIDC

While Arctic and Antarctic sea ice have opposing seasonal trends - low Arctic/high Antarctic in September, high Arctic/low Antarctic in February - the longer-term trends have very little to do with one another. Thus, gains in Antarctic sea ice do not balance losses in Arctic sea ice extent. The sad fact is that, according to NASA sea ice scientists, while Antarctic sea ice is on the increase now, this is at the expense of land ice, and eventually both land and sea ice in the southern hemisphere will suffer, resulting in the same alarming trend seen in the north.

Sources: National Geographic | National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) | NASA

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