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Perennial ice disappearing in the Arctic receives little attention from the media

Perennial ice disappearing in the Arctic receives little attention from the media

Perennial ice disappears, media yawns
Jeremy Hance,
March 19, 2008

A big story came out on the loss of perennial ice in Arctic from NASA on Wednesday — and was mostly ignored by the media. Despite a colder winter than usual, the Arctic is losing its perennial ice (ice that lasts longer than a season) making the region even more susceptible to global warming. Perennial ice used to cover 50-60 percent of the Arctic. Results from this year’s satellites show that perennial ice has decreased to less than 30 percent. In addition ice older than six years has declined from 20 percent in the eighties to six percent today.

Despite the importance of this news, which provides further evidence that climate change is occurring rapidly with profound consequences, media sources in general ignored the story or tucked it away. A survey of major US and British new sources on the Internet at 6PM Eastern revealed that this story had made none of their front pages. Sources included The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Independent, BBC, and Sky News. The total of front page stories from these publications approximated 130. Only MSNBC’s homepage included a story on climate change, but it wasn’t on the lack of perennial ice cover, but a report on climate change causing earlier springs.

Left: February distribution of ice by its age during normal Arctic conditions (1985-2000 average). Right: February 2008 Arctic ice age distribution. The ice in the Arctic is much younger than normal, with vast regions now covered by first-year ice and much less area covered by multiyear ice. Click image to enlarge. Credit: NSIDC

Not only did the story not make the front page, it also only trickled into the global media. According to searches on Google News — which searches 4,500 news sources around the world — there are currently 171 articles on the recent NASA report. This means that less than 4 percent of news sources searched by Google News covered the report. What made the news on Wednesday? The dispute between China and Tibet pulled up 5,672 articles while Heather Mills’ divorce proceedings from Paul McCartney drew a stunning 3,610 articles. Obama and McCain having a war of words over the Iraq war produced ten times the amount of articles as the dire news in the Arctic: 1,715 articles, even this is not the first time the two have exchanged such words. Finally, the news that a court dismissed a warrant against actor Shia LaBouf for smoking a cigarette illegally received more attention than the NASA report. The actor’s illegal smoke was written about in 262 articles. The only one of these stories with possible global consequences remains the NASA report.

This ice concentration map dated March 9, 2008, indicates maximum ice extent in the Northern Hemisphere. The contour of the ice edge in 2006 is shown in red, while that for the 28-year average is shown in gold. Click image to enlarge. Credit: NASA

The report is particularly important after last summer’s stunning ice retreat, which put scientists around the world on notice: the ice retreated over a million square kilometers further than its previous record low in 2005 and opened up for the first time a Northwest Passage through Arctic waters. This rapid decline in perennial ice does not bode well for 2008’s Arctic summer, since seasonal ice is far thinner and more unstable than long-term ice. These changes in Arctic ice are no longer the canary in the coal mine: they are massive global changes occurring here and now. Media sources ignore (and tuck away) such stories at the peril of our future. It may not be what their audience wants to read, but it is certainly what the public needs to know.

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