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Study Says Arctic Sea Ice Is Melting Rapidly

April 3, 2009

According to new analysis, arctic sea ice is melting so fast that the majority of it could be gone within the next 30 years.  The forecast is based on analysis generated using computer models of weather and climate.

If the white ice melts, it will be replaced with dark ocean surface that will absorb sunlight. This will then speed up the global warming process.

The findings increase concern about global warming, a problem that has become a focus of the G20 discussions under way in London.

“Due to the recent loss of sea ice, the 2005-2008 autumn central Arctic surface air temperatures were greater than 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above” what is expected, said the study.

Researchers did not expect that type of temperature increase until the year 2070.

The report, which appears in Friday’s edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, was conducted by Muyin Wang of the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean and James E. Overland of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

Current summer sea ice coverage is expected to drop from 2.8 million square miles to 620,000 square miles within the next 30 years.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, last year’s summer minimum was among the lowest ever recorded at 1.8 million square miles in September.

The Center also said the winter maximum level for ice was 278,000 square miles below the 1979-2000 average.  Since 1979, the six lowest maximums have occurred over the last six years.

Wang and Overland used six computer models and their sea-ice observations to reach their conclusions. 

According to the researchers, much of the remaining ice would be north of Canada, with a significant decrease occurring between Alaska and Russia in the Pacific Arctic.

“The Arctic is often called the Earth’s refrigerator because the sea ice helps cool the planet by reflecting the sun’s radiation back into space,”

Wang told the Associated Press. “With less ice, the sun’s warmth is instead absorbed by the open water, contributing to warmer temperatures in the water and the air.”

The study was backed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the NOAA Climate Change Program Office, and the Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere.

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