Arctic Sea ice at new low as it melts at twice normal rate

Wed, Aug 29, 2012, 01:00

ARCTIC SEA ice is melting away at about twice the rate it normally would this time of year and has reached a record low.

An area of ice almost the size of Ireland is disappearing each day and three more weeks of melting remain before cooling weather can halt the rapid loss.

Scientists have reacted with alarm at the data issued this week by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the University of Colorado, Boulder. One warns that the Arctic Sea could lose all its ice by 2015 and there is little that can be done to stop it.

The centre uses data from Nasa satellites to provide daily information about the extent of the sea ice. Arctic Sea ice extent fell to 4.1 million sq km last Sunday. This was 70,000 sq km lower than the previous minimum of 4.17 million sq km set on September 18th, 2007.

The six lowest ice extents in the 30 years of the satellite era have all occurred in the last six years.

The Arctic would typically lose about 40,000 sq km of ice a day in August, but the loss is now averaging about 75,000 sq km a day.

“This is huge and it’s fast,” Prof Jeff Kargel, glaciologist at the University of Arizona said yesterday. Ice loss in the Arctic has been under way for decades “but something particularly dramatic seems to have been happening the last few years”, he added.

All Arctic Sea ice could be gone in three years, said Prof Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University. He had been measuring sea ice from UK submarines for the past 40 years and after a voyage in 2007 he warned summer sea ice could disappear as early as 2015.

The Arctic region was warming three to four times as fast as the rest of the world, he said. Ice loss caused the sea to heat up faster and allowed bigger storm waves to form and these would help cause a break-up of surviving ice.

The “consequences are enormous” and could accelerate global warming, Prof Wadhams said.

“It definitely means a changed future,” said Dr Robert Meehan, a consultant and geologist who works with the Geological Survey of Ireland and has done extensive research into how the last ice age shaped Ireland today.

“Climate seems to be changing quite rapidly and one of the major impacts is how sea ice has been melting. Long term, given the climate modelling that has been done, the clearance of sea ice will have an effect on global climate.”

The record “is a stark sign that global warming is radically altering the planet”, said Bob Ward, of the Grantham research institute on climate change and the environment at the London School of Economics. It should be “a clear indicator” for governments meeting next week in Bangkok that the pace and scale of reductions in greenhouse gases are “a wholly inadequate response to the magnitude of the impacts of global warming”.