May 13, 2009

Arctic Ice Cap Could Completely Melt In A Decade

A professor from the University of Cambridge believes that the once-permanent ice found in the Arctic may now be so thin that it could be eliminated during the summer seasons in about a decade.

Professor Peter Wadhams told BBC News that ice in the Arctic is headed toward being only visible during the winter.

"By 2013 we will see a much smaller area in summertime than now, and certainly by about 2020, I can imagine that only one area will remain in summer."

Scientists have previously projected that sea ice would be a mainstay even during the summers until near the end of the century.

Wadhams used data collected by Royal Navy submarines since 1971 to draw his striking conclusions.

He told BBC News there is "almost a breakdown" in Arctic ice-cover. He noted a decrease in levels of so-called multi-year ice, which is thick enough to last through warmer summers.

The remainder of the ice can be found in regions north of Greenland and Ellesmere Island in Canada, which Wadhams referred to as "a last holdout, a kind of Alamo."

"The change is happening so fast. It's the result of this steady thinning over four decades that has brought it to a state where its summer melt is causing it to disappear.

"It's like the Arctic is covered with an egg shell and the egg shell has been thinning to the point where it is now just cracking completely."

In 2007, scientists reported a record Arctic ice-cap melt, and last year they noted levels were above average, meaning that this summer is widely expected to provide key figures to better predict the rate of melting.

While the Arctic Ocean is normally 40 percent covered by older, solid ice, the amount has been declining over recent years of warmer summers.

"It is very nice to have 'ground-truthing' of what you're interpreting from the satellite data," said ice service analyst Dr Trudi Wohlleben, referring to measurements using tiny drill holes to determine ice thickness.

"So when we look at the imagery, we're expecting the first year ice to be between 1m and 2m thick and it's nice to have those numbers confirmed."

Wohlleben said she expects the ice to decline this summer as much as it has in the past two years.


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