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Sam Soja, The Canadian Press/AP

Arctic Ice Dwindles to Near-Record Low

September 17, 2008 02:42 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Sea ice in the region is at its second-lowest level on record, although its rate of melting has slowed compared to previous years.

Arctic Sea Ice in ‘Death Spiral’

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Sea ice cover fell to 4.52 million square km (1.74 million square miles) on Sept. 12, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. The all-time record low for ice cover in the region since satellites began collecting data in 1979 was set on Sept. 16, 2007.

Mark Serreze, an Arctic climate expert with the NSIDC, says that the ice is in a “death spiral” and may completely disappear in a few decades.

Although Arctic ice is melting at a slower rate than last year, scientists are concerned that the shrinking of sea ice, which has a cooling effect on the planet, will mean a warmer Arctic, which in turn will lead to even more melting.

“With the climate feedbacks kicking in,” Serreze told National Geographic, “we’ll lose the summer ice cover probably by the year 2030.”

In August, the Telegraph reported that, as a result of melting, the Arctic had become an island “for the first time in human history,” making it possible to circumnavigate the region.

Background: ‘Three Ice Shelves Breaking up in Arctic’

Earlier this month, the Discovery Channel reported that in northern Canada, two ice shelves have lost large sections and another has gone adrift in the Arctic Ocean.

“These changes are irreversible under the present climate and indicate that the environmental conditions that have kept these ice shelves in balance for 4,000 years are no longer present,” said Trent University’s polar expert Derek Mueller to Discovery.

The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, which broke in half in July, lost a piece measuring about 8.5 square miles (22 square km); the Serson Ice Shelf lost two sections of about 47 square miles (122 square km) total. 

The Markham Ice Shelf, which is about 19 square miles (50 square km) or “almost the size of Manhattan,” according to The Times of London, broke off completely from its location near the coast of Ellesmere Island in August.
Researchers are warning that the recent losses in polar ice are a sign of what is in store for the rest of the planet in the future. “Cimate models indicate that the greatest changes, the most severe changes, will happen earliest in the highest northern latitudes,” according to Warwick Vincent, the director of Laval University's Centre for Northern Studies.

Earlier this year, scientists warned that the summer could bring an ice-free Arctic. “The North Pole may be free of ice for the first time in history,” said Canadian climate scientist David Barber, the Canada Research chairperson in Arctic System Science, to Canwest News Service. “This is a very dramatic change in the High Arctic Climate System.”

In 2006, a team of climatologists predicted that the North Pole would melt by the year 2040 or earlier, saying that some ice would remain on coastlines but that the rest of the pole would become open water.

Opinion & Analysis: What does the melting mean for us?

Possible negative impacts of a future meltdown include an acceleration of global warming due to the fact that sea ice reflects more of the sun's heat into space than open water, and a loss of habitat for several animal species, such as polar bears. In addition, the melting of sea ice, which is composed of freshwater, could have unforeseeable effects on ocean currents, global climate and the ocean ecosystem, as it will affect the salt content of ocean water, writes Jim Beard in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Related Topics: ‘Russia Steps Up Arctic Claim’

Reference: North Pole Web Cam; the North Pole

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