Yes, this is a photo of the North Pole — and it's under water. But the dramatic scene is not as alarming as you might think.
This wide-angle image from the North Pole Environmental Observatory has been making the rounds on a number of blogs and science sites right now, but it's not anything scientists haven't seen before — nor is it the largest melt ever recorded. Yes, Arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate, but this photo isn't necessarily indicative of that.
Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic explains:
"I have seen much more extensive ponding," James Morison, the principal investigator for the North Pole Environmental Observatory told me in an email. "Because we use wide angle lenses the melt pond looks much bigger than it is."
He pointed out a camera a mere 100 meters away showing the ice looking relatively intact (see below). And the scale of these images is also quite small. You see those striped sticks in the second photo? Each stripe is 10 centimeters (almost 4 inches) high, so what we see of each stick is only 16 inches. Which is to say: we're not seeing a vast patch of the arctic from these webcams.
This year's sea ice melt is not as bad as last year's record-shattering melt. For much of the season, the sea ice was tracking close to long-term norms, though it had a precipitous decline in July, and is now almost two standard deviations away from the long-term average. Still, Morison said, "that probably has limited connection with the... melt pond."