Everyone Chill Out: The North Pole Is Not Really a Lake

Climate change is causing unheard of Arctic ice loss, but let’s not make seasonal melting out to be something it’s not.

north pole lake

A before and after shot of Arctic ice taken from a webcam at the North Pole on July 25, 2013. (Photo: NSF's North Pole Environmental Observatory)

Sal holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

Remember last week when the interwebs were abuzz with dramatic news that climate change had warmed the North Pole to such a degree that one of the coldest spots on Earth had melted into a lake?

The end of days had come true! The Day After Tomorrow had finally arrived! Ahhh! Quick, how fast could you get to Walmart, stock up on canned goods, and then speed up the mountaintop to your doomsday bunker before the frigid tidal wave of Arctic meltwater flooded your beach house?

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint all you apocalypse trumpeters, but this North Pole Lake story isn't exactly all it's cracked up to be.

According to New York Times' Andrew Revkin, what happened—what is happening—is quite usual, actually:

Ponds of meltwater form routinely on Arctic Ocean sea ice in the summer. The sea ice is floating on the Arctic Ocean and in constant motion. 

But the regularity of the melt is only half of this story. The other is the location of the cameras from which the stills were taken, explains Climate Central.

The cameras in question, which are attached to instruments that scientists have deposited on the sea ice at the start of each spring since 2002, may have "North Pole" in their name, are no longer located at the North Pole. In fact, as this map below shows, they have drifted well south of the North Pole, since they sit atop sea ice floes that move along with ocean currents.

As i09 rightly points out, "jumping to the conclusion that the entire Arctic Ocean is ice-free isn't helpful because it distorts the problem and makes it harder for the public to understand how weather at the Pole actually works."

This is critical for two reasons.

One, when you're fighting deniers, who openly peddle outrageous falsehoods and scour MSM for any small piece of evidence that manmade climate change is a liberal hoax, you simply can't afford to give them any more fuel and need to be grounded when it comes to your argument.

Two, just as it's true that these cameras on these buoys drifted, we can't drift from the real story, which is that the Arctic is melting at an exceedingly precipitous rate, as TakePart reported in June:

In 2012, the Arctic ice cap shrank to a record low, with only 24 percent of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice, a 50 percent drop from 1979, when satellite observation began. And, since 1983, the Arctic has warmed more than any other place on the planet. 

Last summer, Greenland experienced melting across 90 percent of its surface. During one particular four-day period in July 2012, the polar ice melted at a faster rate than satellite data had ever recorded.

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