As whispers of climate change first began to circulate, it was hypothesized that the greatest warming would occur in the Arctic. Data published earlier this year by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies clearly gives truth to this claim. Nine of the 10 warmest years in meteorological record have occurred since 2000, and the greatest increases in temperature have been experienced in the Arctic.
A heatwave in July 2012 melted 97 percent of the surface of Greenland's ice sheet. That’s the largest surface melting that has occurred in more than 30 years of satellite monitoring of the ice sheet. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, sea ice coverage in the Arctic this September narrowly avoided surpassing 2007’s all-time low. And most climate scientists predict the worst is yet to come.
Continued melting trends in the Arctic have the potential to fuel even higher temperatures. As snow and ice melt in the Arctic, the area loses albedo, or reflectivity. Less reflectivity means more heat is absorbed, leading to increased temperatures. Increased temperatures accelerate melting, which can cause glacial surges and increased calving of ice into the ocean. Melting also occurs within the land surface in areas of permafrost, or frozen ground. Some permafrost contains stores of greenhouse gases, which can be released into the atmosphere upon melting.
We are dealing with a large snowball of aggregated environmental issues, and we are coming dangerously close to pushing that snowball over the edge.