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By Candice Bernd
October 13, 2012
Caption : Climate change means young Americans will live through iceless summers in the Arctic within their lifetimes.     


A year ago today, I spoke with Sea Ice Research Scientist Walt Meier from the National Snow Ice Data Research Center about 2011’s record ice loss in the Arctic.

This year isn’t looking much better.

In fact the loss of sea ice extent reached its lowest level ever on September 16, when ice covered only 3.41 million square kilometers of the Arctic Ocean. Last year in September—when the ice cover is typically at its lowest levels due to exposure to more sunlight after long winters in the north—the sea ice covered 4.33 million square kilometers of the ocean, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

It’s not just the extent of the ice cover, or lack thereof, that is breaking new records either. Ice volume in the Arctic has also reached new lows.

“There’s some combined [climate] models and observations that indicate that we may have lost three quarters, 75 percent, of the total volume of the Arctic,” Meier says. “That’s a huge change.”

This year broke the previous record low for sea ice cover set in 2007, when certain weather conditions—clear skies and perfect wind patterns coupled with hot temperatures—caused extreme melting. According to the Center, since 1979, September Arctic ice cover has declined by 13 percent per decade.

Conversely, and seemingly counter-intuitively, sea ice extent in the Antarctic reached record highs this September, but that too, according to Meier, is a result of ongoing climate change. The maximum amount of ice covering the Southern Hemisphere reached 19.44 million square kilometers on September 26, just beating the previous record high in 2006.

According to Meier, we could be seeing ice-free summers for the Arctic in the coming decades, and that means that young Americans today will be living through dramatically rising temperatures at the poles, erratic wind and current circulations, flooding and severe storms tomorrow.

The new records for ice extents are coming at a time when the American public is increasingly making the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. A new survey conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 74 percent of Americans think that climate change is affecting weather patterns in the U.S. and a majority agree that climate change in worsening drought conditions, especially in the Northeast.

As the majority of Americans are beginning to change their minds about the reality of climate change with these in-your-face statistics and extreme storms outside their windows, there remains a steady silence about the matter in this year’s presidential debates.

“Climate change seems to have taken a back seat, at least for the moment,” Meier told Campus Progress.

If that’s the case, it may be up to the youth to become the nation’s backseat drivers, and make sure the planet avoids a colossal climate collision.

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