Global Warming, in a Picture

Satellite images show alarming loss of Arctic summer sea ice

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On July 15th, the Department of Interior, at the urging of the National Academy of Sciences, released hundreds of satellite images that show the impact global warming is having on the Arctic. Though the images have been public for almost two weeks, the story they tell hasn’t lost any of its potency. They are a strong indication that the Arctic—a true natural and international treasure—is changing rapidly, perhaps irrevocably.

The Guardian reports that more than one million square kilometers of Arctic sea ice were absent in 2007 compared to 2006. For scale, that’s an area significantly larger than the entire state of Texas (a little less than one-and-a-half Texases, to be exact). One pair of images, taken above the town of Barrow, AK in July of 2006 and 2007, clearly shows this dramatic loss of summer sea ice.

Scientists cheered the release of the hi-resolution images, and rightfully so, as their instructional value is indisputable. But much about this story doesn’t hit as high a mark. For one, the likelihood of gaining valuable data from similar images in the future is no sure thing. The fleet of U.S. satellites that capture climate data is aging rapidly, and enough federal dollars aren’t being spent to ensure they are replaced. Hopefully that will change. Moreover, the recently released images were kept out of the public eye by the Bush administration, a painful reminder of the innumerable opportunities squandered by the science-averse (and reality-averse) political leaders of that dark era.

What’s happening in the Arctic is a signal to the rest of the world. The time to act on global warming is now, and half-measures just won’t cut it.

Sam Edmondson was a campaign manager on air toxics issues from 2010 until 2012. He helped organize the first 50 States United for Healthy Air event. His desire to work at an environmental organization came from the belief that if we don't do something to change our unsustainable ways, we are in big trouble.