Are The Polar Ice Caps Melting?

In the late 2000s, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said in a series of highly-publicized statements that 100% of the Arctic sea ice could be completely melted during the hotter summer season in the very near future, requiring immediate action.

At the December COP15 Copenhagen (15th Conference of the Parties), part of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference or simply the Copenhagen Summit, Gore repeatedly referenced “state-of-the-art” computer modeling that showed the north polar ice cap might lose all of its ice within the next five to seven years, around 2014-2016.

During COP15, Gore used the worst-case-scenario computer models to appeal to Big Government for immediate counter-action:

“Join me in asking President Obama and the U.S. Senate to set a deadline of 22 April for final action in the U.S. Senate. I do not believe we can wait till next November or December.”

Gore said he favored a tax on carbon and admonished developed countries for demanding that emerging countries provide proof of emissions cuts while simultaneously trying to inflate the funds they were prepared to offer poor countries to deal with climate change.

The science Gore assumed was good – that turned out to be bad – was evidence “only reckless fools would ignore,” he insisted.

Three years before the Copenhagen Summit, Gore’s 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth included a short animation piece showing a polar bear struggling to get up on a crumbling, melting ice flow. The obvious implication was that all polar bears would drown and the species would become extinct – all because of global warming.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But it could still happen, say people convinced that out-of-control global warming is melting the polar ice and sea levels will rise, flooding coastal areas and forcing large populations inland, creating cascading crowding and misery. Jennifer Morgan, international executive director of the radical environmental activist group Greenpeace, tweeted on December 18, 2018:

“We have 12 years to save the world…Humanity is at stake. Countries need to act IMMEDIATELY.”

Is the planet’s polar ice melting, presumably due to rising temperatures worldwide? If not, it must be staying the same or falling.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between sea ice and land ice. Sea ice doesn’t contribute to sea level changes. Only melting land ice causes sea levels to rise. Although sea ice covers 6 percent of the entire oceans at an average thickness of 6 feet, if all of it melted, sea level would rise only 4 inches. If all 200,000 of the planet’s temperate zone glaciers disappeared, sea level would rise another 2 feet.

Land ice is frozen snowfall that has accumulated over thousands of years in the polar regions. In other words, land ice is stored ocean water that once fell as precipitation. When land ice melts, the trapped water is released into the ocean, raising sea level.

The Greenland Land Ice Sheet covers approximately 79 percent of the country’s landmass. If it melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 20 feet. The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers about 98 percent of the Antarctic continent and is the largest single mass of ice on Earth. If it melted, sea level would rise by about 200 feet.

Those are big if’s. Data shows that at both the north and south poles, sea ice grows and shrinks annually. As stated previously, sea ice has no effect on sea level during this regular cyclic process.

Estimated recent changes in Antarctic land ice show an increasing contribution to sea level due to melting. Between 1992 and 2017, the Antarctic Ice Sheets overall lost 2,720 giga-tonnes (Gt) or 2,720,000,000,000 tonnes into the oceans, at an average rate of 108 Gt per year (Gt/yr). Because a reduction in mass of 360 Gt/year represents an annual global-average sea level rise of 1 mm, these estimates equate to an increase in global-average sea levels by 0.3 mm/yr.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet are losing a lot of land ice mass at a rate that is trending upward. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet has actually grown slightly over the 30 years 1990-2020. The net result is a massive loss of Antarctic ice.

A report from February 2020 indicated that the extent of Antarctic sea ice peaked in 2015 before hitting a low in 2016. The Arctic sea ice and the land ice sheets at both poles have been shrinking steadily for decades.

The geologic record chronicles how climate impacts the quantity of ice on Earth. Some 800 million years ago, ice covered nearly the entire globe. Since then, many extended periods had no ice present. As recently as 3 million years ago, sea levels are thought to have been 165 feet higher than today. Ice covered one-third of the planet during the last ice age when sea levels were 400 feet lower.

In 2015, a Forbes article reported that updated data from NASA satellite instruments showed the planetary polar ice caps had not receded at all since measurements began in 1979.

Climate change scientists disagree about polar ice. For every study that rings the alarm bell, there is another assuring us that there is nothing to fear.

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