The headline from Eric Holthaus' latest piece is arresting: The Last Time There Was This Little Arctic Ice, Modern Humans Didn't Exist.
Ice has been a relatively constant feature of the Arctic for most of the past 36 million years, but there have been some gaps. Scientists aren't exactly sure what happened during the most recent major ice-free period, but it's often considered an analog to our future, warmer Earth. The only difference is, this time, the gap in Arctic sea ice is being caused by us.
Greenland has been covered in dark ice this summer. Why is that such a problem? Because dark things absorb more heat than lighter colored things, causing the dark ice to melt faster than white ice would. Eric Hotlhaus explains.
There are several potential explanations for what's going on here. The most likely is that some combination of increasingly infrequent summer snowstorms, wind-blown dust, microbial activity, and forest fire soot led to this year's exceptionally dark ice. A more ominous possibility is that what we're seeing is the start of a cascading feedback loop tied to global warming. Box mentions this summer's mysterious Siberian holes and offshore methane bubbles as evidence that the Arctic can quickly change in unpredictable ways.
This year, Greenland's ice sheet was the darkest Box (or anyone else) has ever measured. Box gives the stunning stats: "In 2014 the ice sheet is precisely 5.6 percent darker, producing an additional absorption of energy equivalent with roughly twice the US annual electricity consumption."
Perhaps coincidentally, 2014 will also be the year with the highest number of forest fires ever measured in Arctic.
The internet's resident meteorologist Eric Holthaus (who incidentally has given up flying because of climate change) warns that a major storm could be on its way to the East Coast in time for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah (which overlap this year and then not again until the year 79811).
Technically, the storm is a nor'easter but is looking more like a tropical storm in the computer models:
At this point, the most likely scenario would be cold, wind-driven rain in the big coastal US cities, with up to a foot of snow stretching from inland New England as far south as the Carolinas. The cold would stick around after the storm exits, with high temperatures in the 20s and wind chills possibly in the single digits as far south as New Jersey on Black Friday.
According to this afternoon's iteration of the Euro model (a meteorological model that famously predicted superstorm Sandy's rare left hook into New Jersey six days out), at the storm's peak, wind gusts on Cape Cod could approach hurricane force.
We're still a ways out, so things might change, but travel safely next week, folks. (via @marcprecipice)
There's a blizzard bearing down on the northeastern United States and here's some essential information you need to know if you live in an affected area:
But seriously, you should follow @EricHolthaus for the latest storm info. (Ok, so we have our first celebrity Twitter weatherman. Weather and climate are going to become a lot more important in American pop culture...at what point do Gawker or Buzzfeed launch their climate verticals?)