The Polar Ice Caps are Melting
Fact

Data shows that the polar ice caps are melting.

Are the Ice Caps Melting?

Data shows that the polar ice caps are melting due to both natural and human factors. Data comes from NASA satellites and is accepted by skeptics and climate change advocates alike.[1][2]

This isn’t to say that every blip of data on sea ice and land ice spells catastrophe, but it does indicate that when we arrogate the data we see trends of polar ice caps melting at accelerated rates (on average over time, especially since the 1970s; not each year).[3][4]

This melting is at least in part due to an increase in the earth’s average temperature AKA “global warming,” which is thought to be impacted by human Carbon Dioxide production (and the release of other greenhouses gasses into the atmosphere from both human activity and natural occurrences).

The process can be confusing as data from both the Arctic and the Antarctic shows the effects playing out in different ways, but the data is generally confirmable (see the citations below for details, or see the videos below for some basics).[5][6][7]

NASA Releases Time-Lapse Video Of Depleting Arctic Ice Cap.

FACT: The ice caps are like a “canary in a coal mine” regarding letting us know if global warming (natural or manmade) is a problem.

NASA | The Arctic and the Antarctic Respond in Opposite Ways.

Largest Areas of Agreement and Disagreement About Polar Ice Caps and Global Warming

All sides of this debate focus on the impact of climate change.

Many people believe that the ice caps are melting and that melting ice caps have negative effects. Most also agree that humans are contributing to the problem via global warming (the greenhouse effect that makes the earth’s average temperature rise).

The fact that we are coming to the end of a geological ice age should also be taken into account.

The greatest disagreement isn’t over whether or not climate change is real or if sea ice is melting, it is over whether this is a major problem or a modest one, and how much control we have over it.

Ultimately, all sides of the argument are based on data NASA satellite data collected since 1979 (and ice chunks studied since the 50’s), which show a long-term decline of global sea ice and land ice. Polar ice naturally recedes and grows in cycles, but data suggests this is not a purely natural decline and instead is correlating with other “climate change” data to paint a troubling picture.

BOTTOMLINE: The ice caps appear to be melting at what seems to be a greater rate than would be expected. Everything from how we measured temperatures in the past, to the natural ebbs and flows, to other factors are taken into account. To what extent this is natural versus manmade and to what extent it is a problem, is where the contention lies.

NASA | Climate Change: A Warming World.

TIP: “Skeptics” tend not to trust NASA because NASA is the government. The problem is that we rely on NASA’s collective funding to study climate issues, so rejecting their information based on bias makes the discussion very tricky. Unless you are going to travel to the poles and start studying ice yourself, it’s probably bad practice to dismiss all of NASA’s raw data. See an explainer of bias as a concept if you are curious as to how this skews the argument.

FACT: Carbon Dioxide was at 405.6 ppm as of March 2017 according to NOAA data presented by NASA. Greenhouse gasses like Carbon Dioxide are said to create a “green house effect” and cause “global warming” when they saturate the atmosphere (they trap heat, like a greenhouse). Consider, Carbon Dioxide levels are currently at an all time high and the data correlates with the melting of the icecaps. Global warming is one type of climate change and climate change is something humans can impact for better or worse.[8]

TIP: Part of what releases greenhouse gasses (like methane) into the atmosphere is permafrost melting. That means the melting of the icecaps can, in theory, create a cycle that accelerates global warming. With that in mind, the earths ecosystem can’t be considered in isolation, there are many complex factors to consider (like to what well our atmosphere can absorb greenhouse gasses without warming).[9][10][11][12]

Ice Cap Melt: Fact Vs. Theory

When lots of facts and data point to something being true, we call it a theory. When we know something for certain, we call it a fact. The more facts and data that point to a theory, the stronger that theory becomes.

  • In this respect, it is a fact that the data points to the ice cap melting, and
  • it is a well substantiated theory that the ice caps are melting.

To prove for certain that the icecaps are melting requires us to have lots of empirical evidence over time. Right now we simply have data pointing to ice cap melt.

The more data that comes out, the more certain we can be of what is happening.

Satellite data shows that since the late 1970s, Arctic sea ice extent has decreased by about 12% per decade.

That is the sort of data used to draw the conclusion that the ice caps are melting (similar data is used to conclude that this is due, at least in part, to human impacted climate change).

With science we always want to look for data that will prove us wrong, not just data that proves us right. At the same time, we want to take the data we do have seriously.

TIP: Learn more about Arctic Sea Ice Decline data specifically.

“Arctic sea ice extent for May 2017 averaged 12.74 million square kilometers (4.92 million square miles), the fourth lowest in the 1979 to 2017 satellite record. This contrasts strongly with the past several months, when extent tracked at satellite-era record lows.” – From the June 2017 nsidc.org article Sluggish ice retreat, except in the Chukchi Sea.

Looking at the Data From NASA

Below are a few charts showing data from NASA’s satellites, which measure the ebbs and flows of polar ice growth and recession. The data shows a long-term decline of global sea ice of about 5.5% (note this is GLOBAL sea ice, not land ice). What is more telling than global sea ice is the average monthly arctic sea ice data (as Antarctic sea ice acts differently than Arctic). What is most troubling is the implication of the data: that polar land ice is melting.

Data showing ice caps melting. source.

Data showing ice caps melting. source.

Data showing ice caps melting. source.

Data showing ice caps melting. source. This is a rebuttal to this article. As explained here.

A graph skeptics use to show ice caps aren't melting. I don't see it. Source.

Updated NASA satellite data that skeptics use to show ice caps aren’t melting. This ignores the fact that the sea ice problem is partially hidden by Arctic sea ice remaining consistent. Source.

What Does it Mean That the Ice Caps are Melting?

Every year it gets hot, the ice melts, that warms the water, then it gets cold, ice freezes, and that cools the water. When the ice melts more rapidly then it freezes it causes a chain reaction that results in melting ice caps over time. If the ice caps melt too much, it will cover most of the earth in water. That is bad.

There are a number of other climate changes caused by melting polar ice, this compounds the problem of studying the effects in isolation, and can result in the caps gaining elevation as snow and rain fall on top of the caps. No side single side effect or natural ebb or flow explains away the rest of the data or hints that the ice caps aren’t actually melting.

FACT: According to 2000 facts sheet from NASA, together, Greenland and Antarctica contain about 75% of the world’s fresh water (also quoted as 68.7% by water.usgs.gov). That is only a little under 2% of the world’s total water, but it is enough to raise sea level by over 75 meters, if all the ice were returned to the oceans. Imagine that water was in the ocean instead of sitting on top of it as ice at the poles.[13]

What If All The Ice Melted On Earth? ft. Bill Nye. Bill Nye explains what would happen IF the polar ice melted. Bill Nye does popular science, so you’ll want to check his insights against NASA data and other official sources cited on this page.

Why are the Ice Caps Melting?

The ice caps are melting because the earth’s average temperature is rising (global warming). This means the cold needed to keep the ice frozen isn’t sustained for long enough to do its job. This can and does happen naturally, but according to sources like NASA, the current average temperature increase can’t be explained by natural cycles alone.

Sea Ice, Land Ice, and What is Happening in the Poles

There are two types of polar ice: sea ice and land ice.

  1. Antarctic sea ice extent is increasing
  2. Antarctic land ice mass is decreasing
  3. Arctic sea ice extent is pretty much staying consistent
  4. Arctic land ice mass is decreasing

Are the ice caps melting?

The Arctic and Antarctic are both reacting differently, but both are actually signaling that there is a problem.[9]

  • In the Arctic, the land ice is melting and the sea ice is spreading out in cold weather and retreating in warm setting record maximums and minimums.
  • In the Antarctic, land ice is melting, but sea ice is remaining consistent. The Antarctic has a different climate and is harder to study, so we are more certain about the Arctic.

The NASA data above is on sea ice, but land ice is much more troublesome. Ice already in the sea (not on top of it per-say), isn’t going to raise water levels like land ice. Both ice types pose issues, and the issues are complex. But, this is important to note, as both sides will purposely use the differences to make their points sound valid. For instance, in 2015 sea ice didn’t rescind as much as 2014, so skeptics used it as proof there was no problem while the other side underplayed it.

NASA reported in 2015 that “sea ice in the Arctic has been declining at a rate of 9% per decade for the past 30 years,[5] whereas Antarctica has been losing land ice at a rate of more than 100 km3 per year since 2002.”[8]

According to NASA in February 2015, “As a whole, the planet has been shedding sea ice at an average annual rate of 13,500 square miles (35,000 square kilometers) since 1979, the equivalent of losing an area of sea ice larger than the state of Maryland every year.” Even though Antarctic sea ice reached a new record maximum this past September, global sea ice is still decreasing. That’s because the decreases in Arctic sea ice far exceed the increases in Antarctic sea ice.[7] NOTE: rates slowed over 2015, so the number is a little less drastic with the full 2015 factored in.

“Even though Antarctic sea ice reached a new record maximum this past September, global sea ice is still decreasing,” said Claire Parkinson, author of the study and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “That’s because the decreases in Arctic sea ice far exceed the increases in Antarctic sea ice.”



Notes

Below are the author’s opinions on the topic.

The Skeptics Can’t all Be Wrong… Can They?

I went into this kind of hoping I would discover that the data was overstated or wrong. That is not my takeaway, although I reserve room to be proved wrong (after-all data showing that the ice-caps are melting isn’t the same as proving everything related to the climate change and ice cap melt debate).

My takeaway is that climate skeptics essentially know global warming is a problem to some extent, but many don’t think it’s “that bad”, and are using confusion to hinder what could very well be oppressive regulation. On the same note, it’s likely that those who want more regulation have their own agenda. Also, we can’t rule out bias and how people are reacting to data without conscious motive at all.

Motives and bias aside, the ice caps seem to be melting (for real, for real). This, natural or not, should be taken seriously in a way that doesn’t cause catastrophe down the road. Catastrophe could look like Water World, or it could look like Atlas Shrugged as we over-react and scramble for a solution later than ideal. By acting now we have greater control over what change looks like, that is in our interest regardless of party lines.

To be fair, and so anyone researching this has both sides of the argument. Here is the rock star of Youtube skepticism Stefan Molyneux. As one commenter put it “….this is lunacy. You would have made a great Tobacco lobby ‘expert’, the for hire merchants of doubt. After all, “four out of five doctors recommend Camels”…

NOTE: There is truth in everything. There are no new ideas, just recombinations of old ones. So it’s hard to be FULL of BS, instead it’s likely both sides have truth. All input is welcome. Comment below.


Conclusion

The fringe aside, both climate change skeptics and advocates agree that the ice caps are melting. The only disagreement is over to what extent it’s natural or a problem.


References

  1. Article Sea Ice News & Analysis 2015 in review“. Nsidc.org. Retrieved Feb 5, 2016.
  2. A Response to Forbes.com article“. Atmos.illinois.edu. Retrieved Feb 5, 2016.
  3. Global Warming and Land Ice“. Earthobservatory.nasa.gov. Retrieved Feb 5, 2016.
  4. Polar ice sheets melting faster than ever“. Dw.com. Retrieved Feb 5, 2016.
  5. Global Warming Puts the Arctic on Thin Ice“. Nrdc.org. Retrieved Feb 5, 2016.
  6. Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Record Maximum“. Nasa.gov. Retrieved Feb 5, 2016.
  7. Study shows global sea ice diminishing, despite Antarctic gains“. Climate.nasa.gov. Retrieved Feb 5, 2016.
  8. Antarctic Ice Melt“. Ossfoundation.us. Retrieved Feb 5, 2016.

Citations

  1. Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Record Maximum. NASA.gov.
  2. Rex Tillerson Says Climate Change Is Real, but … The former oilman downplayed humanity’s responsibility for raising the global thermostat on Wednesday. theAtlantic.com
  3. Another record, but a somewhat cooler Arctic Ocean. nsidc.org.
  4. NASA Study Shows Global Sea Ice Diminishing, Despite Antarctic Gains. NASA.gov.
  5. Climate Change: The Evidence and Our Options. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  6. The Big Thaw As the climate warms, how much, and how quickly, will Earth’s glaciers melt?. NationalGeographic.com.
  7. The Arctic and the Antarctic Respond in Opposite Ways. NASA.gov
  8. Carbon Dioxide LATEST MEASUREMENT: March 2017 405.6 ppm. NASA.gov
  9. Greenland Ice Core Analysis Shows Drastic Climate Change Near End Of Last Ice Age
  10. What does past climate change tell us about global warming?
  11. Antarctic Methane Could Escape, Worsen Warming
  12. Low solar levels during Ordovician Period
  13. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center “NASA Facts: Online”


"The Polar Ice Caps are Melting" is tagged with: Climate Change, Environment, NASA, The Earth


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Daire on

Interesting article, I agree with your conclusion. There is a lot of conflicting information and varying agenda’s present at the moment.

I’m curious as to where you got your fact “Together Greenland and Antartica contain about 75% of the world’s water.” According to the https://water.usgs.gov/edu/ only 1.7% of all of earths water are held as ice in the caps. Yes, even if all this melted it would be catastrophic. However for all of it or even a significant portion of it to melt is another days discussion…

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

I’ll have to verify the claim again. Good catch, I’ll add the explainer or revise after I research it.

jimmyjames on

75%???!!! You just destroyed all your credibility, bud.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

No, I quoted NASA actually: http://www.cotf.edu/essc/coutline/nasafact2.html

That said, the word “fresh” was omitted. That would be 75% of the world’s “fresh water” not just water. Obviously that makes more sense. Exact quote as it stands now:

According to 2000 facts sheet from NASA, together, Greenland and Antarctica contain about 75% of the world’s fresh water (also quoted as 68.7% by water.usgs.gov). That is only a little under 2% of the world’s total water, but it is enough to raise sea level by over 75 meters, if all the ice were returned to the oceans. Imagine that water was in the ocean instead of sitting on top of it as ice at the poles.

In other words, thank you for the insight, the argument is much stronger now. That is what this site is all about, digging toward truth.

The icecaps are still melting, that would be the bottom line here.

Chris on

Would that be fresh water ice? Since I have seen other stats claiming 99% but no doubt the caps are receding/melting. But it still remains the question what percent did humans contribute to global warming or has this been a cycle of freezing and thawing for a millennia.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

So for sure, there are still real questions to ask even after we confirm CO2 levels and that the ice caps are melting at accelerated rates (see the studies in the citations).

One big question is “based off what we know now, how do we act to prevent disaster while not stifling the economy, and how can we learn more?”

As for the fresh water vs. sea water (salt water). Part of the icecaps come from snow and rivers (and thus are “fresher” water) and part are from the sea (salt water). Each type of ice has different implications, and certainly that is part of the discussion. Learn more:

https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/index.html
https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/characteristics/difference.html

SanDee on

Have you done research on the keeling curve study. It shows correlation between carbon dioxide increase and global temperatures

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

No; but good tip. I’ll do some research and see what I can add to the article.

Anton Bakker on
Doesn't beleive this myth.

lets first agree that the scientific part of this discussion is not very strong. If it was pure scientific there would be more agreement and more data. For example we would have more agreement if we had accurate data over the past 300 years and not over the past 30 years. The other issue is that non-scientific people like movie stars have strong opinions about it which skews the ‘consensus’. Thirdly, most data is from one source, namely NASA.
As a result this is not sound science. As a comparison, 80% of American people believe in God but we still teach our children that there is no scientific proof for Gods existence.
Ergo, why would we base a political agenda on flimsy scientific facts? Let’s wait a few more decades and see what happens. Let’s have some car companies spend money on research and have a look at their findings. Until then, please don’t pose the global warming theory as a scientific fact

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

So I generally agree with you that we could use more data and that we should be seeking more consensus. I also would state that we shouldn’t treat inductive arguments based on correlating data as certain fact (it is instead logical conclusions based on probability, based on data we have from studies, which are mostly done by NASA).

That said, one problem here is the opposition (the anti-climate change camp) also has very little data and is often ideologically opposed to the data that does come out.

Most of the arguments I hear from that camp is twisted logic based on misleading presentations of studies (for a broad and loose example see this fact-check of Breitbart https://climatefeedback.org/evaluation/breitbart-misrepresents-research-58-scientific-papers-falsely-claim-disprove-human-caused-global-warming-james-delingpole/).

That camp tends to use the fear that globalists want to use the idea of climate change for economic and political gain as a grounds for saying “human caused climate change isn’t real”… speaking of correlation not always implying causation 😀

The problem with that is the data we do have constantly hints that it is highly likely climate change is real and the real argument is “to what extent is it human caused” and “to what extent can we have a positive impact” and (for our purposes) “to what extent is it melting the ice caps” (and is it the only thing melting them… and are they even melting on average over time; not just more frequently since the 1970’s).

If climate change is real, if the globe is warming on average (not daily or every season even), then over time we will also have the problem of icecap melt (as the data currently indicates we have). This correlation isn’t certainty, but we have to at leas take the data we do have seriously.

As for the polar ice caps melting, like with climate change and global warming in general, I am going off the best data I can.

That data often comes from NASA, but we also have data from other countries and non-NASA sources. Those are the best people we have, those are the ones who have the money to do the funding and the manpower and technology. What other chioce do we have but to accept their data as valid while remaining skeptical and demanding further study?

I am not going to side with big polluters over scientists on this one, even if they are both ideologically driven, at least the scientists are doing the research end instead of making economic arguments.

I don’t know what to say here aside from… “I trust NASA data to the extent that it is wise to trust it” and that (plus other data like that of the European Space Agency ESA) is what I’m basing the conclusion that “data shows the icecaps are melting” on.

So to be very clear, what I’m saying is “Data shows that the polar ice caps are melting due to both natural and human factors. Data comes from NASA satellites and is accepted by skeptics and climate change advocates alike.” I’m not saying the data has to be 100% perfect or that we should be skeptical or should push for more research or that we should over-react.

Thanks for your insight, I tried to make it more clear that theory is not fact. Confusing theory and fact aren’t helpful, but I do think you are being a little dismissive of NASA and their studies. Still, all insight and opinions are welcome. The reader can always consider the counterarguments in the comments!

https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/icesheets.html
https://www.bas.ac.uk/
http://icecores.org/
http://e360.yale.edu/features/abrupt_sea_level_rise_realistic_greenland_antarctica
http://www.dw.com/en/polar-ice-sheets-melting-faster-than-ever/a-16432199