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north pole

Thanks for stopping by for Day 19 of Upworthy's 31 Days of Happiness Countdown! If this is your first visit, here's the gist: Each day between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, we're sharing stories we hope will bring joy, smiles, and laughter into our lives and yours. It's been a challenging year for a lot of us, so why not end it on a high note with a bit of happiness? Check back tomorrow (or click the links at the bottom) for another installment!

You've heard of the circle of life. (And now you're singing it. It's the ciiiiiiiircle of liiiiiife! You're welcome.)


But have you ever wondered what the circle of life actually looks like? Like ... from outer space?

Over the past two decades, scientists at NASA have been gathering satellite images of the Earth. They then took those images and compiled them into one giant, epic time-lapse.

It may not sound like much, but there's just something about watching it ebb and flow back and forth that evokes a deep sense of calm and contentedness. Breath in and out in time with it. It's the kind of immense relaxation that can help improve your sleep quality, lower your anger levels, and boost your confidence. I'm not saying this footage will turn your life around, but well, I'm not not saying it either.

In this short GIF of the NASA footage, compressed and sped up, you can watch the Earth "breathing." Check it out:

Innnnnnnn, and ouuuuuut. GIF via NASA.

Ice and frost drift toward the equator from the north and south poles, then gradually recede. Lush vegetation blooms in the spring months, then retreats again. Oceans move to and fro in stunning tidal patterns. Over and over and over again.

Watch it long enough and you start to feel extremely small and unimportant — in the best possible way. In a way that makes you feel free and like possibilities are endless. It's calming and reassuring ... in a cosmic sort of way.

(It sure beats checking Twitter for the hundredth time today.)

Check out the entire compilation from NASA, which includes higher quality footage and even more extraordinary views.

More days of happiness here: DAY 1 / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5/ DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12 / DAY 13 / DAY 14 / DAY 15 / DAY 16 / DAY 17 / DAY 18 / [DAY 19] / DAY 20 / DAY 21 / DAY 22 / DAY 23 / DAY 24 / DAY 25 / DAY 26 / DAY 27 / DAY 28 / DAY 29 / DAY 30 / DAY 31

If you're 30 years old, you've seen a good amount of change in your lifetime. Over the years you've gone from child to teenager to real adult. You've worked your way through the trials and tribulations of first steps, first crushes, and first jobs. You went to school, got jobs, and grew up. It's the start of an immense and grand story.

But you're not the only thing changing in this story. As you've grown, the background has changed too. Sometimes it's obvious — like moving to a new house or a new city.


But is it possible that larger things changed too?

If you're 30, you started the first grade around 1991 or so.


Back when this was the greatest place on Earth. Image from Matthew Paul Argall/Flickr.

Let's go way back — the first real day of school. New teachers, new kids. Homework, for the first time ever. I remember someone informing me that there were 11 more grades to go and being baffled that anything could possibly take that long!

Meanwhile, the world spun on. Plants grew and died with the seasons, storms came and and went, and up in the Arctic, the ice grew and shifted, as always.

1991. All GIFs from NOAA Climate.gov/YouTube.

You were a high school freshman in 1999, or so.

Eight years later, you were probably starting high school. You weren't the hyperactive kid anymore; you were more stable. More collected. More cool (maybe).

Meanwhile, exciting things were happening in the world. "Star Wars: Episode I," "The Matrix," and "Family Guy" all premiered that year. People were Y2K-proofing their computers. And everyone was drawing that weird S-thing on their notebooks.

1999.

And the Arctic still went through its annual cycle of freeze and thaw.

This is an animation created by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, by the way. The colors in the GIFs show how old the ice is: The whiter the ice is, the older it is.

And ice, like people, tends to get stronger and more resilient as it matures. It's more likely to stick around through tough times. At first there seemed to be a lot of old ice. But something's changing...

If you went to college, you were probably the class of 2007.

Bob Barker bids farewell to "The Price Is Right," but Don Draper steps into the zeitgeist as the wildly-popular "Mad Men" premieres. The final "Harry Potter" book comes out.

As for you, this was a year of caps and gowns and new jobs. By now you were into your 20s — officially an adult — someone with real responsibility and experience. Someone who things can start to count on to stick around.

2007.

But the same can't be said for the North Pole.

Did you spot the pattern? Look close - the white part's starting to disappear. The old ice is going away.

And if you have kids, they might have been born in either 2011 or 2012, statistically speaking.

2011-2012.

But by then the old ice had practically disappeared.

That means the entire ice pack is weaker, more fragile, and more likely to melt in the summer. In 2012, for example, the summer extent of the ice was only about half the 1979-2000 average.

It's as if someone took a population of strong, resilient adults and replaced them with first graders.

What will the world be like by the time the next generation turns 30?

By the time the kids born in 2011 turn 30, the Arctic could be largely ice-free during the summer.

This could have huge implications for the planet. Melting sea ice could change weather patterns thousands of miles away. Ocean currents could change too. And all the people and animals — like polar bears — who depend on the ice would be in serious trouble.

But we can still do something about the underlying cause. By using less fossil fuel and investing in green energy, we can help slow down climate change and, hopefully, help retain as much of that mature ice as we can.

And it starts with us knowing what's going on in the great white north. Let's spread the word.

Watch the full animation below:

It's mesmerizing.

Video from NOAA Climate.gov/YouTube.

Fasten your seat belts and, uh, put on your snow jackets. A new world speed record has been set.

That's because on Christmas Day 2015, the Russian icebreaker Vaygach completed a journey along the north coast of Siberia — a trip known as the Northern Sea Route — in just seven and a half days.

Which, for a boat that looks like this:


Image from Dudinka_Apu/Wikimedia Commons.

is like:

Vaygach left the Bering Strait, near Alaska, on Dec. 17, and covered over 2,200 nautical miles to get to the White Sea, just off the north coast of Finland, by Dec. 25. It ended up coming in about a half-day faster than previous trips.

One reason they went so fast might be that there wasn't as much ice.


"Climate change means Arctic sea ice is vanishing faster than ever," said President Obama in a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Commencement in May 2015. It's true. In fact, 2015's maximum ice was the lowest on record. (This winter's numbers aren't in yet because, well, winter's not over yet.)

"By the middle of this century," Obama continued, "Arctic summers could be essentially ice free. We’re witnessing the birth of a new ocean — new sea lanes, more shipping, more exploration, more competition for the vast natural resources below."

Less ice will likely mean more traffic throughout the Arctic.

Even if the ice is still pretty thick in places, more and more ships are making the trip along both the northern coast of Siberia and through the Northwest Passage that stretches from Alaska to Greenland.

Image from NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

"From the 1980s on, voyages through the Passage have become an annual event," said a report by Canada's Northwest Territories' Department of Environment and Natural Resources, "The number of transits increased from 4 per year in the 1980s to 20-30 per year in 2009-2013."

But if the U.S. wants to be able to patrol this new ocean, we're woefully unprepared.

Not every ship can plow through the arctic ice — you have to have specially designed icebreakers like the Russian Vaygach or the Coast Guard's USCGC Healy.

America currently has two fully functional icebreakers. Just two. Russia, on the other hand, has 40. And they're building more. China also is becoming increasingly involved in Arctic expeditions.

I bet they have no trouble at parties. GIF via Patrick Kelley/YouTube.

Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan said, "The highways of the Arctic are paved by icebreakers. Right now, the Russians have superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”

Obama has since called on the U.S. to build more icebreaker ships, but it's not set just yet.

U.S. military operations on Arctic land could face trouble for melting ice too.

A report from the Government Accountability Office found that coastal military sites are in danger from climate change. In Alaska, for example, coastal erosion from thawing permafrost and rising sea levels is putting Air Force radar and communications stations in danger. Roads, sea walls, and runways have also been damaged.

When permafrost thaws, anything built on top of it is just kind of out of luck. Image from USGS/Flickr.

Climate change will challenge the military's entire mission.

Increasingly unstable weather could mean more humanitarian missions both abroad and at home — think about all the work the Coast Guard had to do during Hurricane Sandy.

Plus, climate change could fuel more competition for scarce resources like food and water, which could lead to more global instability, more extremism, and more refugees. Some reports have pointed out that severe drought and crop failures helped fuel early unrest in Syria, for example.

This isn't partisan rhetoric — this is coming directly from the Department of Defense.

“The Department of Defense's primary responsibility is to protect national security interests around the world," said officials in a July 2015 release. "The department must consider the effects of climate change — such as sea level rise, shifting climate zones and more frequent and intense severe weather events — and how these effects could impact national security.”

So it's a little frustrating to hear Congress prevaricate about it. I mean, some senators are still treating climate change like some sort of conspiracy theory. If the military has already accepted it as fact, why can't the rest of the government?

The North Pole is famous for many things. 24-hour darkness, polar bears, and of course, being the home of Santa Claus.

One thing it's definitely not known for, though, is balmy, casual, "Hey, how cold is it? Do you think I need a light jacket?" type temperatures.

The north pole is freezing. It's one of the coldest places on Earth. In fact, it's sometimes colder than Mars. Mars!


The frozen ice-ball where Matt Damon lives. Photo by NASA/Getty Images.

But according to scientists, a storm the likes of which few have ever seen is about to raise north pole temperatures to as high as 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

That's about 50 degrees warmer than usual and is, according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, "absolutely terrifying."

It's always comforting when a scientist uses the words "absolutely terrifying."

The biggest reason behind that terror? Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. But if it gets warmer than that, ice melts. If the North Pole (which is covered in sea ice) begins to melt, less sunlight can be reflected off the ice. Thus, arctic temperatures rise even faster in a vicious cycle.

Also, if the continental ice sheets in that region start to melt, sea levels everywhere could quickly rise to dangerous levels.

Rising sea levels have already started to affect areas like Robbins, Maryland. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The storm is on its way to becoming one of the strongest in the North Atlantic's history.

It's a "meteorological marvel" that has so far ripped through Texas in the form of brutal tornados, dumped record amounts of rain onto the Midwest, and is now moving on with the intention of flooding an already soaked U.K. ... and bringing hoodie weather to one of the coldest places on the planet.

It rained so much in London this year that everyone was required to buy cool umbrellas. Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images.

Hurricane-force winds and alarmingly low barometric pressure are pushing it into the category of "bombogenesis..." a term used to describe "meteorological bombs" that often devastate large areas.

One piece of good news, though: The 230-mile-per-hour jet stream that the storm caused in the North Atlantic actually shortened flights from New York to London to a little over five hours. (It usually takes six or seven.)

"This, more than any other extreme weather event in a remarkable year for the climate, feels like something new," writes climate blogger Robert Scribbler.

And it has been a remarkable year for the climate. The east coast just had its warmest Christmas ever. Manhattan was over 70 degrees at noontime, and in Queens, people were surfing. Yeah. Surfing.

Surfers flocked to Rockaway Beach this Christmas because the waves were "totally tubular" or whatever they say. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

So what in the lukewarm world is going on here?

Well, as you can probably imagine, climate change is playing a big part.

According to many climate scientists, including Michael E. Mann of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, regular El Nino ocean temperature fluctuations are being made worse by human-caused climate change.

All of which is causing worse storms than usual.

Robert Scribbler writes that the strong winds and tropical air associated with the storm system "reeks of human-forced warming of the Earth's climate."

And although some remain skeptical of the correlation in this case, it's hard to imagine a situation where record-breaking-ly warm air being hurled at the North Pole is a good thing.

The only positive outcome I can imagine is that Santa, who obviously spends his downtime hang gliding and reading mystery novels in Bermuda, might not have to go anywhere else this year. He could probably just have a barbecue in his backyard with all his reindeer.