Arctic cap on course for record melt

2012-08-22 11:50

Washington - The Arctic ice cap is melting at a startlingly rapid rate and may shrink to its smallest-ever level within weeks as the planet's temperatures rise, US scientists said on Tuesday.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder said that the summer ice in the Arctic was already nearing its lowest level recorded, even though the summer melt season is not yet over.

"The numbers are coming in and we are looking at them with a sense of amazement," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the university.

"If the melt were to just suddenly stop today, we would be at the third lowest in the satellite record. We've still got another two weeks of melt to go, so I think we're very likely to set a new record," he said.

The previous record was set in 2007 when the ice cap shrunk to 4.25 million square kilometres, stunning scientists who had not forecast such a drastic melt so soon.

Global warming

The Colorado-based centre said that one potential factor could be an Arctic cyclone earlier this month. However, Serreze played down the effects of the cyclone and said that this year's melt was all the more remarkable because of the lack of special weather factors seen in 2007.

Serreze said that the extensive melt was in line with the effects of global warming, with the ice being hit by a double whammy of rising temperatures in the atmosphere and warmer oceans.

"The ice now is so thin in the spring just because of the general pattern of warming that large parts of the pack ice just can't survive the summer melt season anymore," he said.

Russia's Roshydromet environmental agency also reported earlier this month that the Arctic melt was reaching record levels. Several studies have predicted that the cap in the summer could melt completely in coming decades.

The thaw in the Arctic is rapidly transforming the geopolitics of the region, with the long forbidding ocean looking more attractive to the shipping and energy industries.

Five nations surround the Arctic Ocean - Russia, which has about half of the coastline, along with Canada, Denmark, Norway and the US - but the route could see a growing number of commercial players.

The first ship from China - the Xuelong, or Snow Dragon - recently sailed from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Arctic Ocean, cutting the distance by more than 40%.

Severe storms

Egill Thor Nielsson, an Icelandic scientist who participated in the expedition, said last week in Reykjavik that he expected China to be increasingly interested in the route as it was relatively easy to sail.

But the rapid melt affects local people's lifestyles and scientists warn of serious consequences for the rest of the planet. The Arctic ice cap serves a vital function by reflecting light and hence keeping the earth cool.

Serreze said it was possible that the rapid melt was a factor in severe storms witnessed in recent years in the US and elsewhere as it changed the nature of the planet's temperature gradients.

The planet has charted a slew of record temperatures in recent years. In the continental US, July was the hottest ever recorded with temperatures 1.8°C higher than the average in the 20th century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Most scientists believe that carbon emissions from industry cause global warming. Efforts to control the gases have encountered resistance in a number of countries, with some lawmakers in the US questioning the science.

  • theodor.herzl.3 - 2012-08-22 13:04

    Load of nonsense. Europe recorded it's coldest winter in decades, and back in SA we had the coldest winter in years. My friend works for a company that works in Marion Islands and they have a recorded a .01 temperature drop in 40 years...Nothing is warming up folks, it's a cycle, we have been here before!

      stirrer.stirrer - 2012-08-22 14:00

      Well said, theodor. I hope Denis the Misguided Menace (who, according to his FB profile, thinks that Pretoria is in the Eastern Cape) reads this, he tried to convince me on another article forum that record winters are caused by global warming. If he tries dropping the GW label, and just talks about climate change - which is hard to dispute while GW warming is just hard to swallow - he might sound a bit more believable. Seems to me that the "averages" quoted by GW sheeple only take summer temperatures into account and ignore the inconvenient truth of record winters. It is a known fact that we are currently emerging from a "mild" era in the cyclical climate history. Who is to say that we are not returning to a more "normal" era, with weather patterns (both summer and winter) tending to more extreme? Looking at geological evidence all over the world (canyons, flood plains, altered river courses, wind erosion) things were VERY bad in the past. The best thing we can do as humans, is to adapt. We have the technology now that we didn't have in the past.

      Tony Lapson - 2012-08-22 14:33

      Don't bad-mouth Dennis for not agreeing with you. That isn't right. I am interested in what you have to say, because I want to consider all possibilities. So please do me a favor and link me to these "facts" and "evidence" from accredited scientists. I would sincerely appreciate extra information on your view

      stirrer.stirrer - 2012-08-22 15:44

      Ag Tony, I read through a lot of the so-called "facts" from so-called "accredited scientists" (who decides they are "accredited" , anyway? Their friends? The other group claims they are the accredited ones, so there goes that argument...). The conflicting "evidence", distorted and selective data (especially the Climategate emails were lots of fun to read), scientists switching alliances (in both directions), and general mud-slinging between the two factions made me decide to make up my own mind. It's amazing how much clearer things become when you look at it without preconceptions and brainwashing! Regarding the "mild" era: Well researched and documented fact that we are currently in the Holocene era, which is inter-glacial, and regarded as relatively mild. 10-14th Centuries we had the Medieval Warm Period, during which humans prospered and it started the Renaissance. 14-18th Century was the Little Ice Age, but still relatively mild. Warming from the 19th century onwards caused the Industrial Revolution. The mild climate was therefore essential for human and technological development. Also scientific facts that pre-Holocene we had an ice age, with a period of global warming (Eemian Era) both which had more extreme weather than currently. PS: Denis had it coming with his atttitude.

      robin.stobbs.9 - 2012-08-22 16:44

      @Theodor and Stirrer. Right, so right! So many of these alarmist blabber-mouths apparently disregard the well documented fact that the North-West Passage was open to sea traffic back in the early 1930s. What we are told is happening now is nothing new; the only difference between now and then is that today we have satellites while back in the early 20th Century all we had were sailing ships!

      ernst.j.joubert - 2012-08-22 16:50

      @theodor.herzl: A local cold day has nothing to do with the long-term trend of increasing global temperatures.

      stirrer.stirrer - 2012-08-22 17:30

      Ernst, it's been said if you can read, it opens up a wealth of knowledge. Please READ what Theodor said, it's scientifically observed temperatures (Marion Island, climatologists, capiche?) over a period of 40 years, how on earth did you come up with "a local cold day"???

      ernst.j.joubert - 2012-08-22 18:07

      @Stirrer: The point I am trying to make is that it is incorrect to assume that becuase europe had its coldest winter ever, manmade global warming is false. Globally, the total average temperature is going up. This means that your record highs overshadow your record lows. This doesnt mean that there is cooling.

  • robert.cerff - 2012-08-22 13:36

    "The Arctic ice cap is melting at a startlingly rapid rate and may shrink to its smallest-ever level within weeks as the planet's temperatures rise" Um... will call that a little bit of a porky-pie. As that hasn't even always been the north pole, I expect it's been smaller before. I like the use of "record temperatures in recent years" then follows with higher than average. This implies that the record tempreratures are all on the increase which isn't the case. We now have better recording equipment than we could have dreamt of some 50 years ago. But heres a thought: How often do you hear, "the coldest winter ever..." "or the hottest summer ever" when people are talking. The memory is short and with the equipment used to measure everything advancing so quickly do you really expect the same results?

      ernst.j.joubert - 2012-08-22 16:50

      A local cold day has nothing to do with the long-term trend of increasing global temperatures.

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