June 27, 2008

Completely Melted North Pole A Probability This Summer

Many polar scientists believe that ice at the North Pole stands a good chance of completely disappearing over the course of the year. Some scientists say the ice at 90 degrees north may well have melted away by the summer.

The massive melting of such a well-known arctic location would be a symbolic example of the great impact of global warming.

"From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the globe, but symbolically it is hugely important. There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water," said Mark Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado.

Chances of a totally ice-free North Pole this summer are greater than 50:50 because the normally thick ice at the Pole has been gradually weakened and replaced by much thinner ice over the past year, scientists said.

The ice melting process is normal each year before reforming during the long Arctic winter. However, the loss of sea ice last year was so drastic that a large portion of the Arctic Ocean became open water.

One-year ice is highly vulnerable to melting during the summer months and satellite data coming in over recent weeks shows that the rate of melting is faster than last year, when there was an all-time record loss of summer sea ice at the Arctic.

"The issue is that, for the first time that I am aware of, the North Pole is covered with extensive first-year ice "“ ice that formed last autumn and winter. I'd say it's even-odds whether the North Pole melts out," said Dr Serreze.

For the first time in human history, some 70 percent of sea ice present at the Pole this spring was single-year ice that formed over last winter.

"Indeed, for the Arctic as a whole, the melt season started with even more thin ice than in 2007, hence concerns that we may even beat last year's sea-ice minimum. We'll see what happens, a great deal depends on the weather patterns in July and August," Serreze said.

If it happens, it raises the prospect of the Arctic nations being able to exploit the valuable oil and mineral deposits below these a bed which have until now been impossible to extract because of the thick sea ice above.

What's more, the polar regions are currently experiencing more heat than ever before due to global warming. Scientists fear that as more sea ice is lost, the darker, open ocean will absorb more heat and raise local temperatures even further.

"Last year we saw huge areas of the ocean open up, which has never been experienced before. People are expecting this to continue this year and it is likely to extend over the North Pole. It is quite likely that the North Pole will be exposed this summer "“ it's not happened before," said Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, who was one of the first civilian scientists to sail underneath the Arctic sea ice in a Royal Navy submarine.

NASA scientists also reported an increase in the amount of water forming in North Water "Ëœpolynyas'. Polynyas are formations of open water surrounded by ice, which absorb heat from the sun and eat away at the edge of sea ice.


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US National Snow and Ice Data Center