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Your carbon footprint destroys 30 square metres of Arctic sea ice a year

November 3, 2016

Your carbon footprint destroys 30 square metres of Arctic sea ice a year

Damian Carrington
Thursday 3 November 2016 19.00 GMT

The average westerner’s carbon emissions destroy 30 square metres of Arctic sea ice every year, according to new research.

The work indicates that, even with current efforts to cut emissions, the Arctic will lose all its ice in summer within about 20 years.

Plummeting Arctic sea ice cover is one of the most obvious signs of climate change and is increasingly linked to extreme weather events such as storms and floods in Europe and severe cold snaps in the US.

The new study revealed a linear link between emissions of CO2 and the loss of Arctic sea ice, which has shrunk by half in the last 40 years. The link enables people to understand their own contribution to climate change, according to the leader of the work, Prof Dirk Notz, at the Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany.

“It allows us, for the first time really, to intuitively grasp how we all individually contribute to global warming,” he said. “The observed numbers are very simple. For each tonne of CO2 that a person emits anywhere on this planet, three square metres of Arctic summer sea ice disappears.”

“So far the global warming debate has always been about very large numbers like billions of tonnes of CO2 or very small numbers like 0.1C of temperature change,” he said. “Our study allows us to understand that it is really our own individual actions, every day, that contribute to ongoing global warming.”

The research, published in the journal Science, analysed the declining extent of Arctic sea ice from 1953 to 2015 and found it tracked the emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel burning and other human activities. The relationship fits well with the underlying physics.

As a result, it is possible to calculate how much Arctic sea ice is lost as a result of an individual’s emissions. The average annual emissions of a citizen of the 35 rich nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is 10 tonnes per year, leading to 30 sq m of ice being lost. Citizens of the US, Canada and Australia have a higher carbon footprint - about 16 tonnes - each causing almost 50 sq m of ice loss per year. In the UK, the average emissions are 7.5 tonnes per year, meaning 22.5 sq m of ice loss.

Read more at The Guardian.

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