Thick Arctic Sea Ice Near Greenland Has Broken Up for the First Time in History

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iStock

The sea off Greenland's northern coast has long been referred to as "the last ice area.” The ice there is so old and thick that scientists believed the shelf would be the last to remain intact in the area in the face of climate change. Now, a new development is challenging that assumption: As The Guardian reports, the strongest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break apart for the first time in recorded history.

The ice above Greenland owed its fortitude up to this point to the Transpolar Drift Stream. Ice from Siberia carried by the current collects on Greenland's coast, condensing to create a sturdy ice pack that's more than 13 feet thick, with ridges exceeding 65 feet in some places. The ice has remained whole at least since scientists started keeping satellite records of it in the 1970s, but an unusually warm and windy year has compromised its integrity.

The breaking sea ice has been documented twice this year—once in February and once in August, both times when temperatures spiked above the averages for the region. The heatwaves weakened the ice and dislodged it from the coast, and warm winds pushed it further from land, creating a patch of open water larger than has ever before been observed in the Arctic. Temperatures will eventually drop back down and the gap will close up, but that won't be enough to reverse the damage. The ice has already been displaced to a spot where it will melt more easily the next time warm weather arrives up north.

Climate scientists are rethinking how global warming might reshape the Arctic. Now that "the last ice area" has started to break up, experts are now saying the true last holdout of the region may be further west. Norwegian Meteorological Institute scientist Thomas Lavergne described the phenomenon as "scary" on Twitter.

Less permanent sea ice means polar bears will have fewer areas for hunting marine mammals, their main food source. New gaps in the ice can also trigger a feedback loop: While white ice reflects the Sun's heat, the dark ocean surface absorbs it, raising temperatures and causing ice to melt faster, feeding a perilous cycle. Arctic ice cover at both poles has been shrinking at a rapid rate in recent decades, with the Larsen C breaking off from Antarctica last summer and forming an iceberg the size of Delaware. Scientists predict that there will be no summer ice present in the Arctic Ocean at all starting some time in the next 10 to 30 years.

[h/t The Guardian]

Oregon Launches the Country's First State-Wide Refillable Beer Bottle Program

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iStock

Being a frequent beer drinker doesn't just affect your waistline. It's also not good for the environment—all those cans and bottles add up. But Oregonians soon won't have to feel guilty for the bottles piling up in their trash cans, because the state just launched the first state-wide refillable beer bottle program in the U.S., as NPR and EarthFix report.

Oregon breweries are selling their beer in thicker, heavier beer bottles that customers can return to be cleaned and refilled, just like the milk bottles of yore. Seven craft breweries whose beers are available in stores across the state are currently participating in the refillable bottle program, but the distinct bottles can be used and refilled at any brewery in the state, and the program will likely expand in the coming years.

The bottles, stamped with the word "refillable," are made from recycled glass and can be reused up to 40 times. The design was developed by the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, and customers can drop them off at any of the group's 21 redemption centers. The organization also runs the state's general container deposit-refund system, so customers can bring them to the same locations as any other recyclables.

The thicker shape allows them to be separated out from other recyclables that get dropped off at bottle deposit sites, ensuring that they get sorted out to be refilled rather than recycled with standard glass bottles.

Oregon passed the first state bottle bill in the nation in 1971 as a way to encourage recycling. In 2018, the state increased the bottle deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents, hoping to increase redemptions. About 73 percent of metal, glass, and plastic recyclables were actually redeemed in 2017, up from 64 percent in 2016.

While refillable beverage containers aren't the norm in the U.S., other countries are far ahead of us. Some provinces in Canada have nearly a 99 percent return rate for their refillable bottles, and the average bottle is reused 15 times. Most beer in Germany is sold in mehrweg, or reusable, bottles, and consumers can return them to any store that sells reusable-bottle beer to get their deposit back.

Though the Oregon program is an environmental boon, the carbon savings won't be as high as they could be. Oregon doesn't yet have a bottle washing facility to process the refillables, so they currently have to be shipped to Montana for washing. Eventually, the program will set up some of these washing facilities in-state, increasing its utility.

[h/t NPR]

You Can Visit Any National Park For Free This Saturday

Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

Looking for something to do this weekend? Within driving distance of one of the country's more than 400 national parks? The timing might work out. On Saturday, September 22, the National Park Service will be celebrating National Public Lands Day by offering free admission to any national park that normally charges an entrance fee.

Established in 1994 by the National Environmental Education Foundation, National Public Lands Day is held annually on the fourth Saturday in September. The day is set aside to recognize and encourage stewardship of green space in individual communities. If you see an opportunity to volunteer that day, you can get a voucher good for admission on a day of your choosing.

Admission to federally owned parks during peak season averages $30 at the 117 locations that require payment for access. Recently, the National Park Service had considered raising the fee to $70 at 17 of the busiest parks. The potential move would help address maintenance and other costs, but it's drawn criticism from conservation groups arguing the locations should remain affordable to visitors. In the end, the NPS decided to raise prices by $5 for one-time entry, or $5 to $10 for an annual pass, though some fees won't rise until 2020.

You can search for parks by state or by activity using the National Park Service Find a Park search engine here. Note that any additional charges for camping or other attractions aren't included in the promotion.

Can't make it this weekend? The parks are open for a fee-free day four times in 2018, down from 10 in 2017. The next date is November 11, in honor of Veterans Day.

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