August 26, 2011
Arctic Ocean Opens Up As Sea Ice Disappears
A new report from the European Space Agency (ESA) shows that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has receded dramatically during this summer, opening up two new shipping lanes - the Canadian Northwest Passage and Russia´s Northern Sea Route.The summer of 2007 recorded the lowest amount of sea ice since satellite observations began in 1979. That season was hit with unusual weather; skies opened over the central Arctic Ocean and wind patterns pushed warm air into the region, promoting a strong melt, according to the ESA.
The weather patterns this year have been different, plus with both passages opening up this could indicate another record low year for Arctic sea ice.
Leif Toudal Pedersen, a senior scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute said in an ESA press release: “The minimum ice extent is still three to four weeks away, and a lot depends on the weather conditions over the Arctic during those weeks. Whether we reach an absolute minimum or not, this year again confirms that we are in a new regime with substantially less summer ice than before. The last five summers are the five minimum ice extent summers on record.”
According to the observations, the Arctic Ocean creates sea ice and then the sea ice melts in the summer. But the rate of overall loss has accelerated.
The ESA notes that during the last 30 years, satellites observing the Arctic have witnessed reductions in the minimum ice extent at the end of summer from around 8 million sq. km in the early 1980´s to the historic minimum of less than 4.24 million sq. km in 2007.
The receding of the sea ice is a boom for shipping companies who are already looking over the benefits these routes may bring if they remain open regularly.
According to BBC News, tankers are already carrying natural gas condensate from the northern port of Murmansk to sail along the Siberian coast en route for Thailand.
This opening up of the sailing lanes also, according to the BBC, has the potential of opening up the seabed in order to discover and drill for oil and gas. This possibility has some environmental groups concerned. They argue that this presents a major safety concern in the often inclement Arctic, as well as strengthening the world´s reliance on fossil fuels ensuring the progression of anthropogenic global warming, thus causing further erosion of Arctic summer sea ice.
This animation shows the melting of Arctic sea ice from 1 June to 24 August 2011. Every year, the Arctic Ocean experiences the formation and then melting of vast amounts of floating ice, but the rate of overall loss has accelerated. Credit: Animation based on data from the US National Ice Center
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