Arctic Sea Ice Nears Record Low

The National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), based in Colorado, has reported that Arctic sea ice is melting at a record rate with its volume and density declining greatly. This summer, Arctic sea ice has been melting at a pace of 38,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) per day, but that rate doubled in early August. The ice’s melting overlapped with a storm, referred to by the NSIDC as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012, but it is unknown as to whether this storm and its effects caused the swift melting, as the ice was already expected to melt. While the ice is still above record-low levels (set in 2007), there are still a few weeks left in the season, and the ice could melt further during that time. This summer, the weather in the Arctic Circle has been inconsistent, making it difficult to predict weather patterns or determine what is causing these changes in the weather.

Arctic sea ice measured 3,118 cubic miles in the summer of 2004, but had dropped to just 1,679 cubic miles by this summer. The ice melted by 77,220 square miles in only three days at the beginning of last month. This summer, 97 percent of arctic ice in Greenland has begun to melt on its surface, and the ice on the Eastern Siberian Sea is melting rapidly as well; only the ice off of the northeastern coast of Greenland has remained at a normal level (levels measured between 1979 and 2000). Overall, 30 percent of Arctic ice has been lost since 1979, when levels were first recorded via satellite.

Implications of Arctic sea ice melting can be felt around the world as ocean levels rise and coastal communities continue to be threatened with flooding. Although it is difficult for scientists to pinpoint the exact culprit of the Arctic sea ice’s decline, it is likely caused in part by the increased temperatures that climate change brings, but also by natural fluctuations in weather patterns. It is possible that melting ice leads to a loss of more ice as the melted ice absorbs more heat, but scientists consider this an unlikely explanation for how rapidly the ice has declined this year.

The NSIDC is a research-based group that studies the Arctic environment, glaciers, snow, ice, and frozen ground, and publishes data regarding the state of the Arctic. Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, 350.org, and the Sierra Club have drafted a petition to reach out to the general public and gain support for reducing carbon pollution. The petition is aimed at the EPA, which the groups want to enforce science-based regulations on carbon pollution in order to preserve the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change. The petition’s supporters are urging the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to cut pollution by restricting the concentration of carbon in the air to 350 parts per million (ppm) (down from the current concentration of 392 ppm), a move that would drastically reduce the effects of pollution and global warming.

“While carbon dioxide isn’t the only global warming pollutant we need to control, it’s the number-one contributor to climate change,” the petition says. “For four decades, the Clean Air Act has protected the air we breathe through a proven, successful system of pollution control that saves lives and creates economic benefits exceeding its costs by many times. It’s time to fully use one of our strongest existing tools for reducing greenhouse gas pollution: the Clean Air Act.”

Add your name to the petition and tell your friends and family to support these environmental conservation efforts today.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/gsfc/6151061573/

What’s So Fishy About Small Fish?

The world’s oceans are becoming over-crowded with sardines and small fish. Within the last 100 years, the population of small fish has more than doubled. The rise of sardines and small fish has been caused by a major decline in large predator fish due to the overfishing of sharks, tuna, cod, and swordfish. Recently, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has even added sardines to their Seafood Watch green list. Indicating, that sardines have made a comeback as a sustainable food source.

So, what type of impact does this have on our oceans? Sardines are known to feed on the free floating organisms called zooplankton. Zooplankton in return feed on plant plankton which is the organism usually at the bottom of the oceans food chain. As the population of forage fish such as the sardine, anchovy, and capelin are on the rise. The ocean has seen a dramatic decrease in zooplankton populations. Without zooplankton, the population of plant plankton is rising sharply and may become out of control. Thus, resulting in large blooms of green algae.

If a green algae bloom becomes large enough, it can choke the sea life in the ocean by reducing the water’s dissolved oxygen concentration, thereby knocking the ocean’s natural predator and prey relationship out of balance. During a bloom, a liter of sea water may contain millions of algae. Which could be harmful to the animals that feed on that particular algae, and the animals that prey on the species that eat that specific algae. A harmful algae bloom can have adverse effects to many species of marine mammals. Some may include specific toxicity-induced reductions in the development of immunological, neurological, and reproductive capacities within species.

The negative effects of having too much plant plankton in the ocean creating algae has effected many species in the past. In Spring 2004, the death of 107 Bottlenose Dolphins occurred along the Florida panhandle. It was found that the dolphins ingested harmful algae with high levels of brevetoxin. The endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, has been exposed to neurotoxins by consuming and preying on highly contaminated zooplankton. Even the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle has ingested contaminated prey, leading to clinical signs of increased muscle weakness causing the turtle to wash ashore exhausted or dead.

With the number of small fish having doubled over the past 100 years and the effects of overfishing. There are just not enough natural hunters in the ocean to combat the ecological consequences. In fact, within the past 120 years the numbers of natural hunters have decreased by two thirds, due mostly to human fishing. By removing the larger natural hunters from the ocean, small forage fish are thriving and putting the ocean’s overall health at risk.

Photo credit: nlm.nih.gov