Shocking Images Reveal Just How Little Ice Is Left In The Bering Sea

Credit NOAA. NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory

One of the biggest challenges in trying to get people to understand the significance of climate changes is the difficulty in visualizing the change and how large of an impact it is having on our planet.

Well, due to new images from NOAA revealing ice loss in the Bering Sea, we have imagery showing how devastating of an impact climate change is having.

Late March to early April is historically when the Bering Sea reaches its maximum ice extent, but the two image from NOAA’s polar orbiting satellites reveal what ice levels should be at and what it currently is at.

The first image on the left was captured on April 1st, 2014 and shows the majority of the Bering and Chukchi seas covered in ice. The image captured summarizes a fairly typical ice coverage and it reached its maximum coverage on March 21 according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

In contrast, the photo on the right shows a sea that is largely ice free from the coast of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge to the Bering Straight.

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, explained that 2019 had the lowest ice extent on record, even surpassing 2018’s “unprecedented low extent.” 

While scientists are still trying to determine the reason, Thoman said the Bering and southern Chukchi seas experienced “near or at record” warmth during summer and autumn months since 2014, which delays freeze-over when winter rolls around. Stormy weather from January to March also helped melt some of the thinner ice in the region. 

Thoman said this low ice extent has had a substantial economic impact on the coastal communities that rely on the ice for crabbing, fishing and even walrus hunting. 

Sea ice acts like a mirror and helps reflect sunlight and heat back into the atmosphere. This year’s lack of ice means that there are two extra months for that solar energy to be absorbed by the open ocean. 

“This virtually guarantees that sea surface temperatures will be warmer than normal this coming summer and autumn, and so it will impact the ecosystem, including commercial fisheries for months to come,” Thoman added. 

While the images surely are quite shocking and reveal just how big of an impact man is having on this planet, it may just be the start unless humans act quickly by reducing carbon emissions and keep the global temperature rise to a minimum of 1.5 °C

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