North Pole an ‘island’ for first time in 125,000 years

The fabled Northwest and Northeast passages are now open. That makes the North Pole on the island for the first time in human history, most likely for the first time “since the beginning of the last Ice Age 125,000 years ago.”

In the last few days, however, Arctic ice melt has slowed, so we might not see a record this year, as the NSIDC daily graph makes clear:


But whether or record is set this year or not doesn’t really matter have little bearing on the future of the Arctic. The National Snow and Ice Data Center’s Mark Serreze said last Wednesday, “No matter where we stand at the end of the melt season it’s just reinforcing this notion that Arctic ice is in its death spiral.”

And that, of course, means polar bears populations will also enter a death spiral (see “Will polar bears go extinct by 2030? — Part II“).


7 Responses to North Pole an ‘island’ for first time in 125,000 years

  1. Richard C says:

    Extent or area? It is getting pretty close.

  2. Ed Davies says:

    That’s an interesting graph which I’ve been looking at every couple of days since you (I think it was) last linked to it. However, it would be much more informative if it gave some indication of the spread of 1979-2000 values. Do you know of any such information in a nice easy to look at form?

  3. David B. Benson says:

    The polar bears who follow the Hudson Bay style will do just fine. The ones in Alaska are either going to have to change their habits or go hungry.

  4. Jeff Gray says:

    Could someone provide references to science papers explaining how we know the ice extent over a long time? Is it based on ice cores in the arctic sea ice, sea bed deposits or some other observations?

    I have no problem with the data from recent years – that’s pretty solid and undeniable. But how do we tie that with 125,000 year fluctuations?

    If anyone knows of data for glacier ages as well, that would be helpful.

    I have to contend with a lot deniers and they will just reject the claim unless I can back it up with real data.

  5. Ari Herzog says:

    How is the South Pole holding up, in comparison?

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Ari Herzog — Antarctica will be fine until the so-clled ozone hole seriously begins to close.

    Jeff Gray — The previous interglacial, the Eemian, was about 125,000 years ago. It appears to have been warmer than the Holocene (up to about 1950–80, that is.). My understanding is that sea bed deposits show no signs of other than sea ice inhabitants for hundreds of thousands of years. That is probably due to no sampling around the margins, maybe. However, there is a good reconstruction which suggests that the ability to circumnavigate the North Pole was not possible throughout the Holocene (up until now).

    So, ‘most likely’ not for at least 125,000 years.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Andy Revkin, on dotearth, points of that the Northeast passage actually still requires an ice-proof ship. Seems the satellites were fooled by meltwater on top of the ice.