In response to a speech U.S. President Barack Obama made last week, National Geographic created a GIF to visualize how fast Arctic sea ice is melting.
Unveiling a plan billed as the “single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change,” Obama also announced a trip he’ll take to the Alaskan Arctic later this month to visit communities “devastated by melting ice and rising oceans.”
“Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart,” Obama said on Aug. 3 announcing his Clean Power Plan.
“He’s right,” National Geographic’s online natural history editor Christine Dell’Amore wrote in in a post shortly after the announcement.
The society also created a GIF using a series of its own maps to show how dramatic Arctic sea ice has receded between 1999 and 2014.
Earlier this year, NASA announced the Arctic’s maximum winter sea ice coverage to be its lowest on record. But according to sea ice scientist Walt Meier, it’s the yearly minimum that's more interesting.
“It is highly influenced by weather and we’re looking at the loss of thin, seasonal ice that is going to melt anyway in the summer and won’t become part of the permanent ice cover,” Meier said about yearly minimum data in a statement at the time.
“With the summertime minimum, when the extent decreases it’s because we’re losing the thick ice component, and that is a better indicator of warming temperatures.”
In 2014, National Geographic redrew its atlas to take account of the Arctic’s shrinking ice sheet.
“You hear reports all the time in the media about this,” staff cartographer Juan José Valdés said about the changes. “Until you have a hard-copy map in your hand, the message doesn’t really hit home.”
Last year, The Huffington Post reported about how beachside buildings in a remote Alaskan village are collapsing, the ground below them increasing eroded by rising sea levels.
In the U.S., an estimated 16.4 million Americans live in the coastal flood plain and may be impacted if sea levels rise.
Approximately seven million Canadians live in coastal areas. And a large segment of that population whose livelihoods are dependent on the ocean-related industries.
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Pictured here is Muir Glacier, Alaska. On the left, 1891. On the right, 2005. Located in the East Arm of Glacier Bay, Muir Glacier, once enormous, is now called Muir Inlet. It was named for famous naturalist John Muir, who visited the glacier in the 19th century. It has been in decline for at least a century. As Fremont Morse, a government surveyor, wrote in 1905, "the sight and sound of one of these vast masses falling from the cliff, or suddenly appearing from the submarine ice-foot, was something which once witnessed, was not to be forgotten." In 2011, the international Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program reported that, since 2005, surface temperatures in the Arctic have been higher than for any five-year period since record keeping began in 1880.
Pictured here, we see the Matterhorn, a 15,000-foot-high mountain in the Alps between Italy and Switzerland. On the left, Aug. 16, 1960, at 9:00 a.m. On the right, Aug. 18, 2005, at 9:10 a.m. Climate change is a serious problem affecting our planet on a tremendous scale. NASA offers some quick statistics on the state of climate change. Foremost, the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record. In 2007, Arctic summer sea ice reached its lowest extent on record. Finally, carbon dioxide concentrations are at their highest levels in 650,000 years.
Pictured here is a view of Patagonia, Chile, from space. On the left, Sept. 18, 1986. On the right, Aug. 5, 2002. "The 2002 image shows a retreat of nearly 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the glacier on the left side," writes NASA. "The smaller glacier on the right has receded more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles)." Greenpeace visited two glaciers in Patagonia, reporting that the glaciers lost 42 cubic kilometers of ice every year for the last seven years, the equivalent of the volume of 10,000 football stadiums. In 2008, NASA reported that 1.5 trillion to 2 trillion tons of ice in Alaska, Greenland and Antarctica had melted since 2003. Further, the rate of melt is accelerating.
Pictured here is Kilimanjaro Glacier, top view and side view, photographed by NASA's Landsat satellite. On the left is Feb. 17, 1993, and on the right is Feb. 21, 2000. A recent study points out that the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro have shrunk 26 percent since 2000 and around 85 percent since 1912. Lead author Lonnie G. Thompson, an Ohio State University glaciologist, determined through studying aerial photos and examining ice cores that this level of melting had not happened in the area for 11,700 years. While not all experts agree that Kilimanjaro's ice melt is due to global warming, Thompson counters that its trends are mirroring other melts across the globe.
Pictured here is Doldenhorn mountain, North East Ridge, Switzerland. On the left, July 24, 1960, 10:40 a.m. On the right, July 27, 2007, 10:44 a.m. The glaciers of the Swiss Alps have been in retreat in recent years, and experts are concerned that they will eventually disappear. Some scientists continue to debate the existence of global warming. Meanwhile, however, a University of Colorado study found that melting ice raised sea levels worldwide by an average of .06 inches each year from 2003 through 2010. Further, the meltoff from all the world's glaciers, ice sheets and caps in the past eight years could cover the United States in about 18 inches of water, according to new research reported in Live Science.
Pictured here is the Imja Glacier in the Himalayas. On the left is 1956. On the right is 2007. "The latter image shows pronounced retreat and collapse of the lower tongue of the glacier and the formation of new melt ponds," NASA writes. However, a recent study shows that the glaciers of the Himalayas are melting more slowly than previously thought. A team from the University of Colorado, Boulder, used satellite data to determine that the majority of the ice loss causing sea levels to rise was mostly coming from Greenland and Antarctica, reports the Christian Science Monitor. While this is positive news for the Himalayas, it is still disturbing for threatened coastlines around the globe.
Here we see the Petermann Glacier in Greenland. These satellite images show a large iceberg has broken off the Petermann Glacier, which is the "curved, nearly vertical stripe stretching up from the bottom right of the images," NASA notes. "Even if you don't have record-breaking highs, as long as warm temperatures persist, you can get record-breaking melting because of positive feedback mechanisms," according to Dr. Marco Tedesco, a scientist at the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory at The City College of New York who recently conducted a study on ice melt in Greenland and was reported in Science Daily. In other words, when temperatures remain relatively warm, glaciers are "amplifying" their own cycle of melting.
Pictured here is the Qori Kalis Glacier, Peru. On the left, July 1978. On the right, July 2004. Peru is home to the Andes, which contains the world's largest tropical body of ice. The British Climate Change Vulnerability Index reports that Peru has been extremely affected by warming global temperatures, having lost at least 22 percent of its ice mass since 1970. And as time passes, ice melt is accelerating.