A collapse in Arctic sea ice volume spells disaster for the rest of the planet

A still from the newest version of a video explaining how much Arctic sea ice has been lost in the past decades.
A still from the newest version of a video explaining how much Arctic sea ice has been lost in the past decades.

Global warming drives a stunning collapse in sea ice volume.

The sharp decline in Arctic sea ice area in recent decades has been matched by a harder-to-see, but equally sharp, drop in sea ice thickness. The combined result has been a warming-driven collapse in total sea ice volume — to about one quarter of its 1980 level.

I first asked creative tech guru and programming analyst Andy Lee Robinson to make this ice cube volume chart (updated below) after the record-setting sea ice melt in 2012. The European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe had just confirmed modeling by the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center that it wasn’t just ice area that had shrunk to a record low.

Robinson wanted to improve the visualization of volume collapse through 3D animation, which requires serious programming chops and computing power (more details here). Here is his most recent version of the video—with piano music composed and played by Robinson himself.

Unfortunately, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. The accelerated loss of Arctic sea ice drives more extreme weather in North America, while speeding up both Greenland ice sheet melt (which causes faster sea level rise) and the defrosting of carbon-rich permafrost.

Our carbon pollution is the cause. And those climate science deniers who have blocked aggressive action to reduce emissions have made it all but inevitable that continued warming will drive the Arctic’s summer sea ice to near-total destruction.

But it is still probably a coincidence that the October 24 issue of TIME shows an almost identical meltdown of famous climate science denier Donald Trump:

Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez for TIME
Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez for TIME