Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks to Second-Lowest Size on Record in Bad Sign for MiamiEXPAND
Courtesy of Tomas Kennedy

Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks to Second-Lowest Size on Record in Bad Sign for Miami

Miami residents should hope Arctic sea ice remains as thick, frozen, and unmoving as globally possible. This subtropical city's relationship with the far north is pretty clear: The more the ice caps melt, the more Miami floods.

Frozen Arctic waters reflect the sun's heat away from the planet, so less sea ice means the Arctic is growing warmer (bad) and Earth is losing protection from the sun's radiation (also bad).

Scientists study sea-ice levels around March annually because Arctic ice patches reach their peak about this time every year. But in an update that unfortunately won't shock anyone, after releasing their 2018 sea-ice analysis, scientists at NASA's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) warned this is the second-lowest amount of ice — 5.59 square miles — they've ever recorded for the season.

The only worse year was 2017. And the worst four years ever in NASA's 39-year ice-tracking history were the past four years, from 2015 through 2018. NASA noted temperatures in the Arctic remained high throughout the winter, especially during what scientists called a "heat wave" in February.

"This is the fourth winter in a row that such heat waves have been recorded over the Arctic Ocean," the NSIDC writes.

NASA today released this handy video explaining how sea-ice freeze cycles work. Melting sea ice only indirectly contributes to sea-level rise because the ice is already floating in the ocean. (It works basically the same as ice cubes melting in a glass of water — the ice changes into a liquid state, but its mass remains the same.) But shrinking sea-ice levels clearly mean the Arctic is warming and, therefore, the land ice that is really dangerous to global sea levels is also dripping away.

As the Miami Herald expertly detailed last year, melting Arctic water leads directly to higher sea levels across Florida. Scientists told the newspaper that because Florida sits "downstream" from the Arctic ice cap in an area of “preferential excitement,” meltwater tends to flow south and then collect near the Sunshine State. 

A few Florida environmental groups have already sent out warnings regarding the latest sea-ice report: ReThink Energy Florida, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit, warns that today's news is yet another sign that both Tally and Washington need to act quickly to cut carbon emissions and at least try to reverse the world's course.

"The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet," the group warned in a news release today. "The rapidly warming Arctic accelerates ice loss from Greenland and Arctic glaciers that contribute globally to the rate of sea level rise impacting low-lying states like Florida. The fate of the Arctic is the fate of Florida."

As New Times has noted repeatedly in the past, Miami is the single most endangered city in America when it comes to sea-level rise — and the state and federal government are doing basically squat to fix the problem. Last month, a report in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warned that the Arctic and Antarctic glaciers are melting at increasing rates — and a two-foot spike in ocean levels is possible by 2100. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued similar warnings, and it's disheartening that these projections have only increased over the past decade or so.

"If sea level begins changing more rapidly, for example due to rapid changes in ice sheet dynamics, then this simple extrapolation will likely represent a conservative lower bound on future sea-level change," last month's study warned. "In contrast, few potential processes exist to suggest that this estimate is too high."

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