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]

A Free Cup Share Program Is Coming to Coffee Shops in Boulder, Colorado

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iStock.com/fotostorm

Paper coffee cups are wasteful, taking decades to break down in a landfill after they're used for just a small part of someone's morning. But they're also irresistibly convenient to many. A new startup called Vessel Works is aiming to tackle the waste problem at coffee shops by applying the convenience of disposable to-go cups to reusable mugs, Fast Company reports.

The program, which is launching in four Boulder, Colorado cafes, takes the pressure off of customers to provide their own reusable cups. Instead, they can download an app and use it to check out an insulated, stainless steel mug free of charge. Throughout the day, the app updates them on ways their choice has made a difference, including how much waste they've prevented, how much water they've conserved, and how much they've reduced their carbon footprint. When they're done with the drink, users have five days to return their mug to a Vessel kiosk; from there it will be cleaned in one of the startup's facilities and returned to a cafe where the cycle will start all over again.

Vessel isn't the first company to attempt to bring reusable cups into the sharing economy. In 2016, coffee shops in Hamburg, Germany adopted a program where customers could acquire a mug for a small deposit and return it to a participating cafe to get their money back. Vessel Works's program differs in that users are never asked to pay unless they fail to return their cups on time (in that case, they'll be charged a fee).

Vessel is currently working with Boxcar Coffee Roasters and Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder, and is coming soon to Seeds Library Cafe at the Boulder Public Library and the Pekoe Sip House at the University of Colorado. The startup hopes to eventually expand to more cafes and install dropoff kiosks at more convenient locations like transit stops.

[h/t Fast Company]

This Live Stream Lets You Eavesdrop on Endangered Killer Whales' Conversations

iStock.com/Serega
iStock.com/Serega

Southern resident killer whales, which are usually found off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, are an endangered species. If you're lucky, though, you might be able to hear a pod of the killer whales chattering away from the comfort of your own home. A website spotted by The Kansas City Star lets you live stream the calls of killer whales from your phone or laptop. Dubbed Orcasound, it uses hydrophones (underwater microphones) to pick up oceanic sounds from two areas off the coast of Washington.

On the website, listeners can choose between the two locations. One is the Orcasound Lab in Haro Strait, which is situated off the coast of Washington's San Juan Islands—the "summertime habitat" of this specific ecotype of whale, according to the website. The other location is Bush Point at the entrance to Puget Sound, where the whales pass through about once a month in search of salmon. However, that hydrophone is currently being repaired.

So what do orcas sound like? They're loud, and they do a whole lot of whistling, whining, and clicking. You can hear a snippet of what that sounds like in a four-minute podcast uploaded to the Orcasound site.

There’s no guarantee you’ll hear an orca, though. "Mostly you'll hear ships," the website notes, but there's also a chance you'll hear humpbacks in the fall and male harbor seals in the summer.

The live stream isn't just for educational purposes. It also serves as a citizen science project to help researchers continue their studies of southern resident killer whales, which are in danger of starvation as Chinook salmon, their main food source, die off.

The makers of Orcasound are urging listeners to email ihearsomething@orcasound.net anytime they hear killer whales or "other interesting sounds." They can also log their observations in a shared Google spreadsheet. Eventually, developers of the site hope to roll out a button that listeners can click when they hear a whale, to make the process easier for people to get involved.

[h/t The Kansas City Star]

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