Sea ice in the Arctic shrank this summer to its smallest size ever since satellite records began in the 1970s. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, this year’s 2012 minimum ice coverage of 1.32 million square miles shattered the previous mark of 1.61 million square miles set in 2007 by a whopping 18 percent. “We are now in uncharted territory,” said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze in a press release. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”
And another thing: All that oil drilling and shipping that a thawed Arctic will enable? It’ll further accelerate global warming, according to the United Nations Environment Program. Local pollutants such as soot, or "black carbon", darkens ice, which means it soaks up more of the sun's heat, quickening a melt – just as the dark surface of a melted Arctic Ocean absorbs more sunlight.
Image from NSIDC.
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”