How much Arctic sea ice are you melting? Scientists have an answer – Los Angeles Times

Climate change may sometimes seem so big and abstract that it can be difficult to grasp the scope of the problem. But now, scientists have found a way to bring the numbers down to Earth: For every metric ton of carbon dioxide released into the air, three square meters of Arctic sea ice disappear. If you do the math, this means the average American is melting roughly 50 square meters of those frozen reserves every year.

The findings, published in the journal Science, highlight the direct effect that individuals have on climate change — and what it means for the Arctic’s shrinking sea ice.

“For us, this is really the first time that we do have an intuitive understanding of how our individual actions really contribute to global warming,” said lead author Dirk Notz, a climate scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. “So far, when we talked about global warming, it was always these very big numbers, like billions of tons of carbon dioxide — or very small numbers, like 0.1 degree of temperature change or something. But now suddenly, with this three-square-meter loss per ton of CO2, it gives a very, very concrete and intuitive understanding of how we all cause Arctic sea ice to melt.”

Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas; it traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, forcing the global temperature higher and higher. (It also acidifies the world’s oceans, making it difficult for sea creatures to build their shells and corals to build reefs.) And human activity, thanks in large part to the fossil fuels we burn, is speeding up the release of carbon dioxide.

How much Arctic sea ice are you melting? Scientists have an answer – Los Angeles Times

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