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The Great Northern Meltdown: First It was the Polar Bears, Now It’s the Hemisphere


Listen to an interview with Robert Hunsiker on the melting of the Arctic and the politics of climate change on the CounterPunch Radio podcast.

A lone polar bear on a small sheet of ice has become an iconic image of global warming. Unfortunately, the image of the distraught polar bear sends a beguiling image that renders the dangers of global warming a disservice.

A better image, or icon, would be a massive 100-foot thick naturally coagulated renegade iceberg broadsiding an oil rig, more on this truly catastrophic event later.

National Geographic, President Obama, and the Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study (International Polar Year Project) have brought worldwide attention to the most fearsome challenge to the planet’s ecosystem in human history. It’s all about the Great Northern Meltdown.

National Geographic’s 10th edition of its atlas has a strikingly animated gif showing the retreat of Arctic ice from 1999 to 2014.

After studying, focusing upon, and thinking about the National Geographic image of a liquescent Arctic, a big question comes to mind: Is it intellectually possible for anybody to come to any conclusion other than global warming as a merciless, powerful and vigorous reality? How else explain the boundless Arctic meltdown?

Interestingly, coincidentally, President Obama, in his recent remarks about a new plan to combat climate change said: “Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart,” Alexander Sehmer, Global Warming: National Geographic Map Shows ‘Striking Retreat’ of Arctic Ice Sheet, The Independent, August 9, 2015.

Hard to believe but true, a melted Arctic has potential to miserably modify every living, breathing, moving object on the planet.

Planetary Impact of Arctic Ice Loss

Objectively, nobody really knows for sure what will happen with an ice-free Arctic simply because it is new to human existence. But, scientists are quick to point to likely blowback. Plus, numerous early warning signals, pre-ice-free, are already pointed in a very foul direction.

David Barber, PhD, director, Centre for Earth Observation Science, University of Manitoba, leads the world’s largest study of the polar region, the International Polar Year Project known as the Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study.

His organization employs the CCGS Amundsen Ice Breaker to study the Arctic, analyzing everything from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the atmosphere and everything from viruses to whales in the biological world. Arctic Net is the international network,

After 30 years traveling on scientific expeditions to the Arctic, Dr. Barber is continually surprised by strange new developments that originate in concert with the rapidity of melting ice.

Multi-year sea ice is being replaced by very thin yearly ice. Multi-year ice is typically 3-10 meters thick. When Dr. Barber started working in the Arctic, multi-year ice was far and wide. Now only 12% of multi-year ice is left. As a consequence, the Arctic is losing its infrastructure, losing its way, bereft of its true essence.

According to Dr. Barber, the sea ice acts like the trees in a tropical rain forest. If you lose all of the trees, it negatively impacts the entire environment. Similarly, if you lose all of the ice, it negatively affects the surrounding environment. Everything in the marine system is impacted from the smallest virus to polar bears to the climate system of the Northern Hemisphere.

“The changes in the Arctic are so rapid that the marine system can’t respond.” (Barber-

Satellite Images of the Arctic are Erroneous

Science relies upon satellites to know what is going on in the Arctic, but the satellite signals incorrectly interpret the true nature of the ice.

In 2009, Dr. Barber’s team traveled on the CCGS Amundsen to the North Pole, traversing areas where satellite reconnaissance indicated thick, multi-year sea ice. But, surprisingly: “In 2009, we found out it wasn’t; it was a form of ‘rotten sea ice’. It was so rotten in fact that the ship, which travels at 13.5 knots in open water, was able to traverse that ice at 13 knots, almost the same speed as open water. Yet, the satellites thought it was all very thick multi-year sea ice.”

The Germans in 2011 and 2012 also conducted summer expeditions to the North Pole. They could not find ice solid enough to put out scientific instruments.

As recently as 2014 while on expedition, Dr. Barber’s team encountered the same rotten ice conundrum, as CCGS Amundsen clipped along full speed ahead, no obstacles.

Rotten Ice Builds Very Dangerous Renegade Icebergs

With the additional onset of more ice-free Arctic, the open summer waters create clear pathways for ice to travel fast, like a freeway of huge floating blocks of multi-year ice. The problem arises as these floaters collide and coalesce, forming bigger newly constructed icebergs. Dr. Barber’s team encountered rapidly floating icebergs 30 meters, or almost 100 feet thick, consisting of layers of multi-year ice that collided and coagulated to form monsters at sea, moving very rapidly across blue open waters.

Obviously, the happenstance of renegade icebergs up to 100 ft. thick swiftly moving across open waters creates an enormous new risk for shipping and exploration. Who knows when and/or from where these monsters of the sea occur?

Imagine the consequences of an Arctic filled with oil drill rigs. Just imagine it!

Climate Change at the Top of the World Happening Much Faster than the Earth’s Middle Latitudes

The world appears upside down as California experiences record-breaking drought, meanwhile Alaska has record heat whilst Arctic temps run hotter than Miami (2015). Most certainly, that is not how the world worked during current lifetimes.

As the amount of Arctic ice reduces, creating open blue seas, the ocean loses its heat (no more ice cover) into the atmosphere. In turn, this causes a lower pressure value in the upper atmosphere. Ipso facto, the results are challenging for the entire Northern Hemisphere because in the past the Polar Vortex kept the cold air encapsulated in the Arctic. (Barber)

Nowadays the Polar Vortex splinters and breaks up because of too much heat. Thus, the Polar Vortex is no longer able to retain the cold air over the top of the Pole, leading to unpredictable massive cold fronts as well as startling prolonged weather events, like droughts, at the lower latitudes of the hemisphere. In short, normalized weather patterns turn topsy-turvy.

The changing atmospheric jet streams become loopy and slower, similar to a child pumping a toy spinning top that rapidly whirls until it finally loses momentum whereupon it wobbles in a slower loopy fashion, causing prolonged, slow-moving halting weather patterns throughout the hemisphere. Ask Californians about prolonged weather patterns.

As the Arctic warms, agriculture to the south is threatened, e.g., California’s Central Valley, one of the world’s most productive agriculture regions with more than 230 crops (Everyone Eats There, The New York Times, Oct. 10, 2012).

“In recent years, climate scientists have noticed that the jet stream has taken on a more wavy shape instead of the more typical oval around the North Pole, leading to outbreaks of colder weather down in the mid-latitudes and milder temperatures in the Arctic, a so-called ‘warm Arctic-cold continents’ pattern,” Wobbly Polar Vortex Triggers Extreme Cold Air Outbreak, NOAA, Jan. 8, 2014.

Rutgers’ scientist Jennifer Francis, who initially postulated an Arctic-induced loopy jet stream, recently submitted new findings: Evidence Linking Rapid Arctic Warming to Mid-latitude Weather Patterns, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, June 1, 2015. The study includes 48 years of daily atmospheric information, linking jet stream large elongated wavy patterns to extreme weather events such as severe cold spells (winter of 2015), enduring drought in the west (California), and major storms like Hurricane Sandy, 2012.

Extreme challenging anomalous weather events caused by loss of Arctic ice, caused by too much carbon dioxide, caused by burning too much fossil fuel are a nasty formula leading to ecosystem collapse, as the permanence of infrastructure loses its inherent value, swept away by rapidity of climate change. Then what?

“The phenomenon called Arctic amplification – defined as the enhanced sensitivity of the Arctic region to warming compared to lower latitudes – is changing large-scale upper level flows in the atmosphere… Looking back at records dating to the late 1940s, it is evident that Arctic amplification of global warming is now continuing through all four seasons of the year (Francis and Vavrus), Kirk Moore, Study Finds More Evidence for Link Between Wavy Jet Streams and Extreme Weather,, Feb. 18, 2015.

“The recent changes we’ve seen are clearly linked to increasing greenhouse gases, and there’s no sign of abatement in our use of fossil fuels. This does not bode well for impacts of extreme weather and the ecosystem as a whole.” (Francis)

In like manner, as the ice cover melts, exposing millennia of entrapped methane, what about a possible crucifying massive outbreak of methane that evolves into runaway global warming, frying the planet?

Then, what can be done to alleviate or stop a future planetary ecosystem collapse caused by loss of Arctic ice? This is the most provocative unanswered question of the twenty-first century.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at

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