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Arctic Ice May Melt Completely Within Ten Years.

Sep 12, 2008
There are worrying reports that the Arctic sea ice is melting at a faster rate than last year, despite the colder weather. Information from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows that the year began with ice covering a larger area than at the beginning of 2007. However by the beginning of summer the ice had diminished to the same levels as June last year - breaking the records for sea ice loss. The ice is melting easily as it is so thin and scientists are now predicting that the Arctic seas may be ice-free during the summer within five to ten years.

"We had a bit more ice in the winter, although we were still way below the long-term average," said Julienne Stroeve from NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado. "So we had a partial recovery. But the real issue is that most of the pack ice has become really thin, and if we have a regular summer now, it can just melt away".

Despite NASA's reports in March, that the area covered by sea ice had increased slightly from 2007, most of the ice is thin, formed during the previous winter. It is more fragile than the thicker, less saline floes that have been around for several years.

A few years ago, scientists were predicting that the Arctic ice would have melted in the summer by about 2080. Then computer models started projecting earlier dates, around 2030 to 2050. In the summer of 2007 the Arctic sea ice reduced to the lowest amount ever recorded; 4.2 million sq km from 7.8 million sq km in 1980. By the end of last year, a research group had predicted the ice melting entirely as early as 2013.

"I think we're going to beat last year's record melt, though I'd love to be wrong," said Dr Stroeve. "If we do, then I don't think 2013 is far off any more. If what we think is going to happen does happen, then it'll be within a decade anyway."

Despite this eminent loss off ice being environmentally catastrophic, countries surrounding the Arctic are seizing up the economic opportunities that melting ice could expose. Canada and Russia are exploring sovereignty claims over tracts of Arctic seafloor, while President George Bush has recently encouraged more oil exploration in US waters, possibly with intent to extend the exploration to reserves off the Alaskan coast.

In their rush to maximize the situation economically, countries are not reflecting enough upon the climatic problems this will cause. Greenland has already lost ice into the ocean, contributing to the gradual rise in sea levels. The Arctic ice cap could increase sea levels globally by about seven metres if it all melted. Natural climatic cycles such as the Arctic Oscillation play a role in year-to-year variations in ice cover. Many scientists feel that the ice is now so thin there is little hope of preventing the melting cycle.

"If the ice were as thick as it was in the 1970s, last year's conditions would have brought a dip in cover, but nothing exceptional. But now it's so thin that you would have to have an exceptional sequence of cold winters and cold summers in order for it to rebuild," said Dr Ian Willis, from the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. This does not bode well for the future of the Arctic ice.
About the Author
Hannah Walker is a writer for www.ecoswitch.com
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