Going, Going, GONE: Two Arctic Ice Caps Have Disappeared

“All that’s left are some photographs and a lot of memories.”

Mark Serreze, now director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, conducting research on one of Canada’s St. Patrick Bay ice caps as a graduate student in 1982. He and a colleague have just confirmed that they’ve melted and completely disappeared.
(Credit: Ray Bradley via NSIDC)

Two little Arctic ice caps that Mark Serreze studied as a graduate student in the early 1980s might not have been as grand and dramatic as other features of our planet’s cryosphere, but to him they nonetheless were quite special.

Were quite special — past tense — because Serreze, who now directs the National Snow and Ice Data Center, has confirmed that the two ice caps on the Hazen Plateau of Canada’s Ellsmere Island have disappeared. They’re the victims of human-caused warming that has occurred three times more rapidly in the Arctic than anywhere else.

The disappearance was confirmed using recent images from the ASTER instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite.

“When I first visited those ice caps, they seemed like such a permanent fixture of the landscape,” Serreze says. “To watch them die in less than 40 years just blows me away.”

Serreze first visited the ice caps in 1982. The region is a polar desert — a very dry, very cold place. He was drawn to do the work in this inhospitable environment because “I grew up in Maine where we had real winters and I loved snow and ice.” (He also reports that he got very good at “riding ice floes down the Kennebunk River.”)

As with many people who visit the Arctic, he was smitten by the landscape. “A ski-equipped Twin Otter dropped us off at the top of the bigger ice cap,” he says. “It was a rare, clear windless morning. I was awed by the pristine whiteness of the snow, the absolute silence, that I could see 50 miles in every direction, and that I may well have been standing on ground that nobody had ever stood on before.”

MORE of the story and 4 more associated images / click image TOP of PAGE