Many news outlets have been reporting the danger of the melting polar ice caps in recent days after a video was released showing an expansive lake of water at the North Pole. The whole area seems to be submerged but the images are misleading and require further context to explain what is actually happening.
Ponds of water are a common occurrence on the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice in the summer. This effect of liquid water covering frozen water is happening at a great distance from what is considered the North Pole. The webcam that took these images was placed on the ice of the North Pole at the beginning of spring this year but has since drifted hundreds of kilometres away from the solid shelves into a more liquidated area. This camera is actually closer to Greenland than it is to the North Pole. “It’s moved away from the North Pole region and it will eventually exit Fram Strait,” said Mark Serreze, Director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado.
The melt pond seen in the image started to form in early July and is now at its highest possible depth. The occurrence of a melt pond close to the North Pole is “just not that unusual,” Serreze said. “The whole Arctic sea ice cover does show melt during summer even at the North Pole.”
Since 2002, NSIDC has sent cameras to the North Pole each spring in order to record data used in analysing the rate of climate change. The NSIDC reports that melt ponds happen every year but James Overland, a researcher from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, admitted in an interview that he does not remember “such an extensive lake” in previous seasons. “The lake is more a product of how the ice was configured earlier in the year,” he later summarised.
The unusual configuration of the ice, as mentioned by Overland, could be due to the amount of snow fall in that area during the winter of 2012. An increase in snowfall would account for the amount of liquid water now present. As for the size of the lake itself, topographical data reveals that the water had a vast area in which to pool thanks to a lack of hills and valleys in the existing ice.
A number of dedicated bodies have set out to correct the misinformation that has spread around the internet relating to the melt lake, including Climate Central. This event is an example of how a scientific report can be twisted into a false story before all the facts are known.