Santa feeling the heat
Durban - Global warming may soon compel Santa Claus to move his Christmas-gift workshop.
According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the icepack at the North Pole - traditional home to the jolly, white-bearded fat man and his magical elves - is shrinking rapidly.
Worse, according to the United Kingdom’s Met Office Hadley Centre, the polar ice may melt away entirely each northern summer, five decades from now.
Briefing journalists at the climate change summit in Durban on Tuesday, WMO deputy secretary-general Jerry Langoasa said the volume of Arctic sea ice had hit a record low this year.
Increasing global warming meant it would continue to shrink, "with more and more passages opening up", he said.
In a statement handed out at the briefing, the WMO said this year’s record low - measured in September - surpassed last year’s record.
"Sea ice volume was... estimated at a new record low of 4 200km³, surpassing the record of 4 580km³ set in 2010."
The WMO - a specialised agency of the United Nations - takes its climate data from networks of land-based weather and climate stations, ships and buoys, as well as satellites.
Its statement also said the surface area covered by the northern polar sea ice was only slightly more than a record low set four years ago.
Lowest sea ice volume
"The seasonal Arctic sea ice minimum, reached on September 9 [this year], was 4.33 million km². This was 35% below the 1979 to 2000 average, and only slightly more than the record low set in 2007," it said.
The second-lowest Arctic sea ice area, and the record lowest sea ice volume, coincided with above-average temperatures in northern regions close to the pole.
Speaking to Sapa later, Met Office Hadley Centre scientist David Britton said models his office were working on suggested the North Pole could be ice-free each summer from about the middle of this century.
"Our models suggest the first Arctic ice-free summer will occur between 2050 and 2060," he said.
Speaking after the briefing, Langoasa said there would be "significant [sea ice] ice loss in the Arctic, but not complete loss".
He declined to put a figure on the extent of the loss, saying it was "geopolitically sensitive".
According to the WMO’s latest data, global temperatures this year are the tenth highest on record. They are also the highest for any year with a La Nina event, which has a relative cooling influence.
"Strong La Nina years are typically 0.10 to 0.15°C cooler than the years preceding and following them.
"[This year’s] global temperatures followed this pattern, being lower than those of 2010, but were still considerably warmer than the most recent moderate to strong La Nina years: 2008; 2000; and 1989."
A La Nina event - Spanish for "the girl" - occurs when sea surface temperatures across the eastern and central parts of the Pacific are lower than normal. It is the opposite of the better-known El Nino. Both affect the world’s weather patterns.
The WMO said other climate "highlights" of the year to date included, among others, a severe drought followed by floods in East Africa, major floods in south-east Asia, a "year of extremes" in the United States and a "dry start" to the year in Europe.
Its statement on ice volume and area comes a week after its shock report on greenhouse gasses.
The report warns that the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere hit a new high last year.