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Arctic ice melting is accelerating

From 8 million km² in August at the beginning of the 1980s, the surface area of the Arctic ice sheet* fell to 5 million km² in 2019, in the same month.

Melting of the ice sheet has been especially intense and fast this summer, opening the Arctic Ocean to navigation and thus strengthening the interest of shippers in this new North-East maritime route between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

 

An irreversible phenomenon

 

What stands out is that this situation is becoming less and less exceptional, due to climate change and has become irreversible. The old strata of ice that have accumulated are tending to disappear over the years, thereby reducing the thickness of the pack ice: on 15 July this year, it reached just over a metre versus more than two metres at the beginning of the 1980s on the same date. Moreover, this reduction accentuates renewed and early melting in summer (to know more, read the article of Sylvestre Huet, in the French newspaper Le Monde).

The observation gives rise for concern when taking into account that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and its mean temperature  has already increased by +2°C in comparison to the pre-industrial era. Over the last few months, images of wildfires decimating the Arctic and reindeer dead from starvation have left their mark in people’s minds.

 

Microplastics in the ice

 

Still more worrying is the recent discovery of another scourge: microplastics.

Arctic snow contains 14,400 particles of plastic per litre according to an international study published on 14 August 2019. Besides the quantification of these plastic microparticles in the snow of several regions of the world, scientists from the German Alfred Wegener Institute and the Swiss Institute of Research on Snow and Avalanches focused on understanding how they arrive in the Arctic Ocean: these debris measuring less than five millimetres are mainly transported in the air and not by ocean currents. They therefore fall far from their place of origin, driven by precipitations, especially snow.

This leads to another issue that obviously springs to mind, that of knowing whether we inhale these airborne particles and if so, in what quantity?

*area of the ocean where less than 15% of the surface is covered by ice.

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