Rapidly shrinking Arctic ice alarms scientists

  • 23/04/2017

With temperatures soaring this past winter to 10degC above normal, the area around the North Pole is melting, and the Arctic sea ice is shrinking at a rate never seen before.

Jeremy Mathis, director of Arctic research for the US' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says the Arctic's ice is at serious risk.

"We're not talking about something that is 100 years from now. We're talking about something that's going to happen in the next decade," he says.

"The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet."

In the US' northernmost city, Utqiagvik, Alaska, once called Barrow, NOAA has a lonely outpost monitoring the Arctic sea ice. On the polar ice, it's not just what you see, but what's hidden below.

The ice is thinning - it used to be nearly three metres thick in some areas. Now, it's more like one metre.

"We care about the Arctic because it has connections to the entire Northern Hemisphere to people down in the lower 48 states," Mr Mathis says.

The warming Arctic is causing the jet stream to wobble across the US, helping spawn massive weather events, and the number of billion-dollar storms in 2017 is on track to set a record.

As the US' weather becomes more destructive, early warnings become more critical.

But scientists may lose their vital tools, like climate-monitoring satellites, targeted by the Trump administration. 

"As for climate change, I think the President was fairly straight forward... 'We're not spending money on that anymore; we consider that to be a waste of your money,'" budget director Mick Mulvaney says.

John Walsh is chief scientist at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and says the administration's funding will hurt future generations.

"They are going to be less aware of what's coming down the road," he says.

"We're basically ignoring threats to the wellbeing of future generations."

In Alaska, warmer temperatures are melting the permafrost. Villages are literally disappearing.

Scientists say Alaska today is fair warning of the climate change future for the rest of the US.

CBS News