September 15, 2008

Arctic Ice Hits Record Low

Observations on ice coverage and thickness show that sea ice in the Arctic may be headed for a consecutive record low in a trend that demands action from governments pursuing a new climate pact, the Worldwide Fund for Nation said on Monday.

"If you take reduced ice thickness into account, there is probably less ice overall in the Arctic this year than in any other year since monitoring began," said Martin Sommerkorn, senior climate adviser of the WWF's Arctic program.

"This is also the first year that the Northwest Passage over the top of North America, and the Northeast Passage over the top of Russia, are both free of ice," he said.

Since satellites began measuring sea ice levels in 1979, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center found that Arctic sea ice coverage was the second lowest on record this month.

Experts are also concerned that last year's record low could be broken by the end of the current season.

Last month, a scientist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, reported that a chunk of ice shelf nearly the size of Manhattan broke away from Ellesmere Island in Canada's northern Arctic.

"There are already signs that species such as polar bears are experiencing negative effects as climate change erodes the ice platform on which they rely," Sommerkorn said. "These changes are also affecting the peoples of the Arctic whose traditional livelihoods depend on healthy ecosystems."

While ice reflects the sun's heat, the open ocean absorbs more heat and the melting accelerates warming in other parts of the world.

"As that ice goes, Arctic waters absorb more heat, adding to global warming," Sommerkorn said. "This is not just an Arctic problem, it is a global problem, and it demands a global response."


Image Caption: Wilkins Ice Shelf February 2008 (NASA) - In late February 2008, an ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula disintegrated into a floating pile of massive ice bergs, smaller ice fragments, and slush that was trapped in place by freezing sea water over subsequent weeks. The dramatic event was first spotted in NASA satellite imagery by Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Over the following days, international collaborators used images from satellites and aircraft to track the event. (More Information)


On the Net:

WWF Arctic Program

U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center