AMPLYFI Insights

Arctic ice loss in 2020 to be worst on record

By September 2, 2020 December 8th, 2020 No Comments

AI identifies key link indicating serious environmental concerns

DataVoyant analysed 35,712 documents relating to arctic sea ice from the past 10 years. A human reading at 300 words per minute would take nearly two years to read these documents. AMPLYFI’s artificial intelligence read the full text of all documents, extracted the prominent topics, organisations, locations and individuals, and measured the connectedness of each in approximately one hour.

A unique perspective

One topic of interest that DataVoyant identified is “MODIS”. High above us, NASA’s “Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer” (MODIS) circles the earth, capturing beautiful images of our planet, such as the stunning arctic algal bloom from the Barents Sea in 2014 (figure 1).

Figure 1: MODIS image showing algal blooms in the Barents Sea in 2014 (Source: MODIS)

As seen in figure 2, DataVoyant reveals a substantial spike in the significance of “MODIS” in 2014 and a notable resurgence in 2020, both driven by the circulation of beautiful images of algal blooms.

Figure 2: DataVoyant charts the peaks of ‘MODIS’ in 2014 and 2020.

However, behind the beautiful images lies an unwelcome connection. 

Record phytoplankton blooms

The algae, a phytoplankton, require UV light to photosynthesise. Rising ocean temperatures cause thinning sea ice. Thinner sea ice allows more of the sun’s rays through to the sea beneath. More UV light means more photosynthesis and record algal blooms. 

The 2014 bloom signalled one of the worst years on record for arctic ice coverage (although not as bad as 2012, as shown in Figure 3). According to results from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, 2020 is heading in the same direction.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent

(Area of ocean with at least 15% sea ice)

Figure 3: The reduction in Arctic sea ice extent is due to rising ocean temperatures (Source: NSIDC).

Rising ocean temperatures

Our oceans are the primary method by which our planet’s excess heat is absorbed. In January 2020 a report published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences calculated that over the past 25 years, the energy absorbed by the earth’s oceans is equivalent to detonating 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom bombs (five atom bombs per second for the past 25 years).

Impact on our environment

Arctic phytoplankton is one of nature’s few winners from rising ocean temperatures, there are far more losers. In the tropics the growth of the same phytoplankton is inhibited by rising temperatures, limiting essential food supplies for whales, jellyfish, shellfish and molluscs. 

Papers published within the past 12 months model the threat of extinction faced by polar bears and emperor penguins within this century. The best-case scenarios for both species show 80% declines in their population by 2100. In the worst-case scenarios neither species will survive the next 80 years.

Rising ocean temperatures also impact global weather systems, threatening species all over the globe, and driving extreme weather including flooding, hurricanes, severe droughts, and wildfires. As well as the threat to human and animal life, these extreme weather events carry an enormous economic cost. The 2020 Australian wildfires destroyed 10.7m hectares, an area the size of Scotland and Wales combined. The University of Queensland economist John Quiggin estimates the full cost of recovery could exceed A$100bn (£55bn).

Wildfires deal a double blow to the environment because they release vast amounts of heat and CO2 that contribute further to rising temperatures and melting ice. Historically wildfire sites have been non-polar, but in June 2020 temperatures within the Arctic circle rose above 30°C (hotter than Florida) leading to a spate of devastating arctic wildfires (figure 4).

High above us, MODIS was on hand to capture the damage. Down here on Earth, DataVoyant is highlighting these worrying environmental changes to organisations around the world.

Figure 4: Fires within the Arctic circle (Source: MODIS).