How much Arctic sea ice did you melt today?

For the first time, researchers studying changes in the Arctic have linked individual carbon footprints to the rapid loss of the region’s sea ice.

The findings, published in the journal Science, report that for every metric ton of carbon dioxideCarbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted in several ways. Naturally through the carbon cycle and through human activities like the burning of fossil fuels. These human activities have increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution and these high ... added to our atmosphere, the Arctic loses 3 square meters of sea ice. This means that, on average, each American is annually responsible for the disappearance of roughly 538 square feet of sea ice. As you can see in the map below, the European Union isn’t far behind.

emissions map
(Graphic: Max Planck Institut for Meteorology)

“So far, climate changeClimate change is a lasting change in weather patterns over long periods of time. It can be a natural phenomena and and has occurred on Earth even before people inhabited it. Quite different is a current situation that is also referred to as climate change, anthropogenic climate change, or ... has often felt like a rather abstract notion,” lead author Dirk Notz said in a statement. “Our results allow us to overcome this perception. For example, it is now straight-forward to calculate that the carbon dioxide emissionsCarbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted in several ways. Naturally through the carbon cycle and through human activities like the burning of fossil fuels. These human activities have increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution and these high ... for each seat on a return flight from, say, London to San Francisco causes about 5 m² of Arctic sea ice to disappear.”

Over the past four decades, Arctic sea ice during the summer season has fallen by more than half. Recently the process appears to have accelerated, with this year’s ice cover marking the second-lowest volume ever recorded. Conversely, a recent study found that the Arctic’s regeneration of sea ice during the colder months is slowing — a worrisome sign of just how quickly climate change is impacting the region. The animation below makes the dramatic loss from 1979-2016 crystal clear:

“The overall trajectory is clear — sometime in the next few decades, maybe as early as 2030, we’ll wake up to a September with no Arctic sea ice,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told the Washington Post.

That is extremely bad news, not only for species dependent on seasonal ice for survival, but also for increased chances of devastating new weatherWeather refers to the state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind, and other meteorological conditions. (UKCIP) patterns over much of the world.

According to the team led by Notz, global warmingHuman activities are adding greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, to the atmosphere, which are enhancing the natural greenhouse effect. While the natural greenhouse effect is keeping average temperature on earth at about +15°C, this enhanced greenhouse ... would need to be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to allow the Arctic to retain some sea ice during summer. Currently, the International Paris Agreement only limits carbon dioxide emissionsEmissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land-use changes, livestock, fertilisation, etc. (IPCC) to 1 trillion metric tons, or a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

“We hope that this study will allow people to more intuitively grasp the mere fact that Arctic sea ice does not disappear because of some large-scale, anonymous action,” Notz told Mashable, “but simply because of our little day-to-day activities.”

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