Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Friday, August 17, 2012

Have we passed a tipping point? 2012 Arctic sea ice melt is going like mad!

I don't have long, but I just want to get this out there.  When I checked in with the state of the Arctic Ocean sea ice melt I was surprised and shocked to see that the sea ice extent is rapidly closing in on the record sea ice melt observed in 2007.  That the 2007 record would be broken eventually is not the surprising thing.  The  surprising thing is that we are still weeks away from the traditional sea ice minimum (1979-2000 data) and nearly a month from the 2007 sea ice minimum date near mid Sept.

Who knows how much sea ice cover we are likely to lose before mid-Sept?

By my rough calculations based on this map, the 1979-2000 baseline sea ice extent for this date is 7.75 million square kilometers, the previous record for this date (in 2007) was about 5.3 million square kilometers, and the current observed sea ice extent is about 4.8 million square kilometers!  That's half a million square kilometers of sea ice LESS than we observed during the previous record set in 2007.

The 2012 data represent only one year's observation, and as such does not constitute  trend, but the rapidity of this year's melt, together with an Arctic cyclonic storm that normally tends to slow sea ice melt that instead accelerated it, gives me reason for concern.  (For more info on this, visit

North America has had record heat through the spring and summer of 2012, a massive Greenland ice sheet has been reported that is well beyond anything previously observed, and eastern Europe and other regions of the world also report much warmer than average temperatures.

Unless there is a drastic change in Arctic conditions in the next few days we will almost certainly see a new record sea ice melt in the Arctic Ocean.

The good news is that a recent report from the United States Energy Information Administration ( stated that national CO2 emissions through the early part of 2012 were down to the level of 1992 emissions - mainly due to power plants switching to available, cleaner burning natural gas.  Still, this concerns me, because with even this reduction we are seeing record temperatures, etc.  I am hopeful, though, that this trend of decreased emissions will continue and mitigate climate change, if possible.

So I pose the question, have we passed a tipping point?  Only time will tell...


  1. So, Alan, do you believe in such a thing as "clean coal"?

  2. I haven't looked into clean coal technology in a while, but I know that the general approach includes physically washing the coal to remove external non-coal debris, and implementation of improved technologies in coal-fired power plants so that the coal is burned more efficiently - which is definitely possible. But at its core, coal is coal is coal, and it is the dirtiest form of fossil fuel.

    This fact has been revealed this year. A report released on 19 August 2012 from the US Energy Information Administration shows that USA carbon emissions so far this year have dropped off significantly, to emission levels last seen in 1992! That's a 20% reduction in emissions. This reduction is reportedly due mainly to power plants shifting from coal to much cleaner burning natural gas.

    Coal as clean energy? I don't think so.