My CO2 Melts 50 Meters of Arctic Ice


One of the most useful and fairly recent ways to understand the impact of human commerce and lifestyles on the biological and material resources and processes of the planet is to express that use in terms of a carbon or water or energy or soil “footprint.”

But up until now it has not been possible to express with precision the impact of human carbon footprints on Arctic sea ice. It’s one thing to have a number for your shoe size, but another thing altogether to know what you’re stepping on in the real world.

As you can see from the illustration in the Guardian, the consequences of my energy needs, transportation needs, and the externalized carbon production that results from the things that I eat, things that I purchase (CO2 production at the point of their manufacturer or growth and in their transportation thousands of miles to my front door or table) equates to about 50 square metres of melted sea ice each year. Keep in mind that on average, Arctic sea ice is about 8 feet thick. 

I’m probably not going to do the math, but thirty square meters down 8 feet (to get cubic meters) will melt due to my contribution to  greenhouse gas over the poles in one year. Then this volume of ice will become how many gallons of water to contribute to sea level rise? Multiply this volume in gallons times the average CO2 production per person in the developed world.

There is no denial that the human economic engine has contributed mightily to the far-reaching impacts of carbon dioxide rise over the past century. There is also no doubt that we can and must change the size of our usage-and-waste footprints.

Just knowing is  first step.

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

Main sources of carbon dioxide emissions | What’s Your Impact

What human activities increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? |HowStuffWorks


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Don’t forget that ice floats and displaces its own weight of water. That is why most of an iceberg is below water level. When it melts it settles down into the water with the same volume. If you put ice in a glass of water and it melts does the water level rise? Same with icebergs. Only ice which is on solid land can make a difference and most Arctic sea ice is floating.

  2. You’re right. It’s land ice melting (like much of Greenland) that is of most concern w regard to melting and sea level rise. That much fresh water, does however, have some impact on salinity, maybe pH I’d think. Dunno. The biggest issue with albedo–melted ice means loss of reflectivity of solar energy back into space, black open water absorbing and white sea ice reflecting. Less reflected, more heat retained in the atmosphere.

  3. Not arguing those points. I just get tired of people saying sea ice melting is going to cause coastal areas to flood. It has ramifications, but that is not one of them.

  4. Albedo loss from melted sea ice is not without consequence. Sea level rise also related to temperature, warmer water expands. And the bigger point as far as sea level rise goes is melting land ice on Greenland.

    Ice sheets contain enormous quantities of frozen water. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet). If the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet).

    Quick Facts on Ice Sheets | National Snow and Ice Data Center

  5. So perhaps your second paragraph should refer to Arctic ice, not Arctic sea ice, as does the article you just quoted.

  6. I think my other reader will figure it out from the context of our discussion. \{ ; > ))

    The point of the post was the direct connection between per capita CO2 use and arctic sea ice melting–that specific consequence because that was the calculation reported from this recent work. I suppose the same figures could have been converted to x amount of Greenland land ice melting but it would not have been as visually relevant a “footprint” impact on ice that is 7k feet thick. It is melting nonetheless.

    THis is also a worthwhile link on the topic:

    SOTC: Contribution of the Cryosphere to Changes in Sea Level | National Snow and Ice Data Center

  7. You do realize that by your numbers if we multiply your average ice melt of 30 cubic meters times 9 BILLION people it would still take over 100,000 years for all the ice to melt on the planet Earth. Never mind that the study only related total carbon emissions to the arctic ice sea melt and therefore doesn’t account for increases else where, and it is generally accepted that greater moisture in the air would result in more ice in the Antarctic and possibly Greenland due to increased snow fall. Never mind that the Arctic floating ice only equals 2% of the total ice on the planet earth and because it is not on ground is more prone to melting. Never mind that at the current rate of melting the Greenland ice cap would take 7,000+ years to disappear assuming again that it doesn’t stop receding due to increased snow fall. Never mind that over timelines of that length we’re more likely to have another mini ice age then we are to see all of the ice on the planet melt. Never mind that if all of the ice did melt and sea oceans rose 60+ meters we would likely end up with roughly the same amount of habitable land that we have now. And never mind that yes salinity would be a problem for animals alive today if all the ice melted but over thousands of years animals would adapt and evolve because I don’t know that’s what they’ve been doing for millions of years.

    THIS IS WHY YOU DO THE MATH!!!!! I don’t care that you’re worried about climate change. I don’t care if you support every single climate change legislation ever suggested. Grow trees. Offset your carbon foot print. Do whatever you want. But for the love of all that is holy just stop swallowing every stupid talking point some idiot puts out without the least bit of skepticism. The sky may be falling and the world may be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean that you should just say “screw my self respect” and jump on the idiot train.