Recent NASA photos showed the opening of the Northwest Passage and that a third of the Arctic’s sea ice has melted in recent years. Are sea levels already starting to rise accordingly, and if so what effects is this having?
—Dudley Robinson, Ireland
Researchers were astounded when, in the fall of 2007, they discovered that the year-round ice pack in the Arctic Ocean had lost some 20 percent of its mass in just two years, setting a new record low since satellite imagery began documenting the terrain in 1978. Without action to stave off climate change, some scientists believe that, at that rate, all of the year-round ice in the Arctic could be gone by as early as 2030.
This massive reduction has allowed an ice-free shipping lane to open through the fabled Northwest Passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland. While the shipping industry—which now has easy northern access between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans—may be cheering this “natural” development, scientists worry about the impact of the resulting rise in sea levels around the world.
With about a third of the world’s population—and 25 percent of Americans—living within 300 feet of an ocean coastline, sea level rise is a big deal. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of leading climate scientists, sea levels have risen some 3.1 millimeters per year since 1993.