Something terrifying is happening at the North Pole

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Writing about climate change presents an interesting challenge.

It's a slow, constant process. Global temperatures rise a little every year, bit by bit accruing disastrous consequences. We get used to hearing that this year, like many years in recent memory, will be the hottest on record. That glaciers are melting. That food insecurity is increasing. That more and more people face climate-induced natural disasters.

As with any slow-moving (on human timescales) tragedy, it's difficult to sustain the degree of attention and horror that each new development deserves.

But then you see something like this:

That's a photo of a Swedish icebreaker sitting in open water at the North Pole, published about two weeks ago. (I first saw it retweeted on weather writer Eric Holthaus's Twitter account.)

Let's put that in context. The North Pole has been entirely covered in ice, including during the summer, for thousands of years. That was still the case when I graduated from high school, and I'm 24.

But a few years ago, predictions that our warming climate would cook the Arctic ice cap until it melted came true. Photos of a lake near the North Pole went briefly viral, then quickly faded from view. Now the Canadian Coast Guard can publish images of open sea at the North Pole and it can pass largely unnoticed.

RELATED: See the impacts of glacier melting

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Climate change: A look at polar ice melting
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Climate change: A look at polar ice melting
ILULISSAT, GREENLAND - JULY 22: Seagulls sit on an iceberg on July 22, 2013 in Ilulissat, Greenland. As Greenlanders adapt to the changing climate and go on with their lives, researchers from the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and its long-term ramifications for the rest of the world. In recent years, sea level rise in places such as Miami Beach has led to increased street flooding and prompted leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a $19.5 billion plan to boost the citys capacity to withstand future extreme weather events by, among other things, devising mechanisms to withstand flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FILE - This July 4, 2012 file photo provided by Ian Joughin shows surface melt water rushing along the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet through a supra-glacial stream channel, southwest of Ilulissat, Greenland. Polar ice sheets are now melting three times faster than in the 1990s and the acceleration of the melting, especially in Greenland, has ice scientists worried. Michel Jarraud, secretary general for the World Meteorological Organization, says the most troubling climate development in 2012 was the melting at the top of the world. (AP Photo/Ian Joughin)
ILULISSAT, GREENLAND - JULY 25: Pedestrians walk along the road on July 26, 2013 in Ilulissat, Greenland. As Greenlanders adapt to the changing climate and go on with their lives, researchers from the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and its long-term ramifications for the rest of the world. In recent years, sea level rise in places such as Miami Beach has led to increased street flooding and prompted leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a $19.5 billion plan to boost the citys capacity to withstand future extreme weather events by, among other things, devising mechanisms to withstand flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ILULISSAT, GREENLAND - JULY 24: Jason Briner, with the University of Buffalo, Department of Geology, flies in a helicopter to a spot to gather samples of granite to research the age of the local glacial retreat on July 24, 2013 in Ilulissat, Greenland. As Greenlanders adapt to the changing climate and go on with their lives, researchers from the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and its long-term ramifications for the rest of the world. In recent years, sea level rise in places such as Miami Beach has led to increased street flooding and prompted leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a $19.5 billion plan to boost the citys capacity to withstand future extreme weather events by, among other things, devising mechanisms to withstand flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ILULISSAT, GREENLAND - JULY 17: Icebergs float in the water on July 17, 2013 in Ilulissat, Greenland. As Greenlanders adapt to the changing climate and go on with their lives, researchers from the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and its long-term ramifications for the rest of the world. In recent years, sea level rise in places such as Miami Beach has led to increased street flooding and prompted leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a $19.5 billion plan to boost the citys capacity to withstand future extreme weather events by, among other things, devising mechanisms to withstand flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ILULISSAT, GREENLAND - JULY 22: A fish hangs from a fishermans hook on July 22, 2013 in Ilulissat, Greenland. As Greenlanders adapt to the changing climate and go on with their lives, researchers from the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and its long-term ramifications for the rest of the world. In recent years, sea level rise in places such as Miami Beach has led to increased street flooding and prompted leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a $19.5 billion plan to boost the citys capacity to withstand future extreme weather events by, among other things, devising mechanisms to withstand flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 01: Aerial view of melt season in the Antarctic Peninsula - Antarctica. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
KANGERLUSSUAQ, GREENLAND - JULY 14: Blooming flowers are seen near the glacial ice toe on July 14, 2013 in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. As the sea levels around the globe rise, researchers affiliated with the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and its long-term ramifications. In recent years, sea level rise in places such as Miami Beach has led to increased street flooding and prompted leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a $19.5 billion plan to boost the citys capacity to withstand future extreme weather events by, among other things, devising mechanisms to withstand flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ILULISSAT, GREENLAND - JULY 15: A glacial toe is seen on July 15, 2013 near Ilulissat, Greenland. As the sea levels around the globe rise, researchers affiliated with the National Science Foundation and other organizations are studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and its long-term ramifications. In recent years, sea level rise in places such as Miami Beach has led to increased street flooding and prompted leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to propose a $19.5 billion plan to boost the citys capacity to withstand future extreme weather events by, among other things, devising mechanisms to withstand flooding. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
This undated handout photo provided by NOAA shows Arctic ice. Federal officials say the Arctic region has changed dramatically in the past five years, for the worse. It's melting at a near record pace, and it's darkening and absorbing too much of the sun's heat. A new report card from the NOAA rates the polar region with blazing red stop lights on three of five categories and yellow cautions for the other two. Overall, these are not good grades, but it doesn't mean the Arctic is doomed and it will still freeze in the winter, said report co-editor Jackie Richter-Menge. (AP Photo/NOAA)
** ADVANCE FOR MONDAY AUGUST 21, 2006, AND THEREAFTER ** A section of the ice sheet covering much of Greenland is seen in this Aug. 17, 2005 file photo. Scientists say the ice is thinning and blame global warming, predicting a 3-foot rise in ocean levels by the end of the century through a combination of thermal expansion of the water and melting of polar ice. When more than two dozen nations decided to fix the ozone hole over Antarctica in 1989, they had little idea that their solution _ replacing the CFCs with other chlorine-containing gases _ would also be a big contributor to global warming. (AP Photo/John McConnico, File)
This handout image provided by NASA, taken in 2012, shows citylights worldwide. People are changing Earth so much with global warming and other pollution that many scientists are turning to a new way to describe the time we live in. They’re calling it the Anthropocene _ the age of humans. Most non-experts don’t realize it, but science calls the time we live in the Holocene, Greek for “entirely recent.” The Holocene started nearly 12,000 years ago. But the way humans and their industries are altering the planet, especially its climate, have caused an increasing number of scientists to use the word Anthropocene to better describe when and where we are. (AP Photo/NASA)
** FILE ** In this July 19, 2007 file photo, an iceberg melts off Ammassalik Island in Eastern Greenland. More than 2 trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted since 2003, according to new NASA satellite data that show the latest signs of what scientists say is global warming. (AP Photo/John McConnico)
FILE - This Sept. 16, 2012, image released by NASA shows the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic, at center in white, and the 1979 to 2000 average extent for the day shown, with the yellow line. Scientists say sea ice in the Arctic shrank to an all-time low of 1.32 million square miles on Sept. 16, smashing old records for the critical climate indicator. Yet there are two people who aren’t talking about it, and they both happen to be running for president. (AP Photo/U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, File)
This undated handout photo provided by NASA shows the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic. Two new studies indicate that part of the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting a slow collapse in an unstoppable way. Alarmed scientists say that means even more sea level rise than they figured. (AP Photo/NASA)
QAANAAQ, GREENLAND - AUGUST 01: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) A researcher of Japan's National Institute of Polar Research investigates the glacier coloured to red by being covered by glacier organisms on August 1, 2012 near Qaanaaq, Greenland. In Greenland there is said to be approximately ten percent of ice of the earth and the large scale melting of the glacier and ice may affect to the global climate change. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
A child wades through the flood waters in front of the Doges' Palace, next to a flooded St. Mark's Square, in Venice on November 7, 2014. The high water, a combination of high tides and a strong Scirocco wind in the Adriatic Sea, stood at 110 centimeters early on November 7. The city has for years been wrestling with the problems posed by the threat of rising sea levels. AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
HOOPERS ISLAND, MD - OCTOBER 30: Donny Willey stands near graves that were once several yards from the waters edge are now exposed and releasing human remains by the eroding waters of the Chesapeake Bay at the Anchor of Hope Cemetery October 30, 2014 in Hoopers Island, Maryland. Willey volunteered his time to try and save the cemetery from erosion and cannot get a permit from the state of Maryland to erect a seawall. The cemetery is the resting place of more than 150 men, women, and children; from the War of 1812 to veterans of several other wars, from the founding family of Hoopers Island to slaves and freed slaves. With sea levels projected to rise several feet over the next century, several islands in the Chesapeake Bay region are slowly eroding away. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
ROBBINS, MD - OCTOBER 09: A truck drives on Robbins Road that is flooded from the high tide of the Blackwater River October 9, 2014 in Robbins, Maryland. Several islands and property's located at sea level in the lower Chesapeake Bay region are slowly eroding away as sea levels rise. Officials have projected the sea level will rise several feet over the next century leaving many of the Chesapeake bay's lower islands underwater. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
HOOPERS ISLAND, MD - OCTOBER 08: A Snapping Turtle sits in the middle of the road October 8, 2014 in Hoopers Island, Maryland. Several islands in the Chesapeake Bay region are slowly eroding away as sea levels are projected to rise several feet over the next century. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
In this Oct. 26, 2011 photo made available by NASA, NASA’s DC-8 research plane flies across the crack forming across the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf in Antarctica. The ice shelf is in the midst of a natural process of calving a large iceberg, which it hasn’t done since 2001. NASA scientists are watching the giant crack forming over a vulnerable Antarctic glacier and they think it will soon break off into an iceberg the size of New York City. Scientists say this type of cracking happens naturally every decade and is not related to global warming. They said the new iceberg could break away by the end of this year or early next. (AP Photo/NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center, Jefferson Beck)
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(One caveat: Though the CCG describes this image as from the North Pole, we don't know exactly where in the Arctic sea it was shot. I've reached out to them for comment and will update if I hear back.)

The thing is, people know that climate change is a problem. Gallup reports that 64% of US adults are worried "a great deal" or "a fair amount" about climate change.

It's hard to stay energized when there's so much else happening to worry about though, and that often means that the conspiracists and truthers are the loudest voices.

But in a world where a major presidential candidate can offer no policy proposal at all to address climate change, without any apparent political repercussions, I still think a picture of open ocean at the North Pole is worth paying attention to.

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