Fact check: Trump quip on Arctic ice melts under scrutiny

Breioamerkurjokull glacier region, Iceland, above. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

U.S. President Donald Trump answered questions about climate change on the television program “Piers Morgan” on Sunday. Vexing scientists around the world, Trump declared the world’s ice caps are “setting records” — a sentiment directly at odds with the latest research that proves much of the world’s ice is melting.

“If the ice caps were going to melt, they would be gone by now, but now they’re setting records. They’re at a record level,” Trump said. “Look — it used to not be climate change — it used to be global warming. Right? That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place.”

One person who has had a front-row view to the melting Arctic ice: former president of Iceland (and current Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at Conservation International) Ólafur Grímsson. Under his leadership, Iceland embraced its role on the world stage as a living example of both the impacts of climate change and the promise of climate action.

In an interview with Human Nature, Grímsson paints a picture of the ice caps that aligns with scientific findings: “The Arctic sea ice has been melting very aggressively, and there is less and less of the Arctic sea ice in the summer. When you come from my part of the world, you have the evidence of this aggressive melting of the ice all around you.”

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Arctic sea ice extent is approximately 1.5 million square kilometers (579,153 square miles) below average levels on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. And according to a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, the melting of the ice caps is what’s causing colder winter temperatures in the United States.

The study, published in July, found that unusually cold temperatures in northern North America and lower precipitation in the south-central U.S. all lined up with periods of warmer Arctic weather. These weather patterns could weaken vegetation and shorten spring growing periods. This indicates that while yes, U.S. winters are colder, the icecaps are actually melting.

This isn’t the first time President Trump has gotten attention for his views on climate change — or the weather. At last week’s economic forum in Davos, French President Emmanuel Macron made headlines when he poked fun at Trump’s vocal denial of climate change.

At least for Grímsson, climate change isn’t up for debate. The proof is right in his backyard: “I often say that the ice does not have a political viewpoint. It simply melts.”

Read the full interview with Grímsson here.

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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