Arctic sea ice could shrink to record lows, says polar scientist

By RTCC Staff 

Arctic sea ice could shrink to records lows next week, and continue to melt for the rest of the summer season, according to a scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the Centre told Reuters: “A new daily record…would be likely by the end of August. Chances are it will cross the previous record while we’re still in sea ice retreat.”

Scientist says sea ice could hit lowest point this summer - earlier in the season than expected (Source: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

The summer melt of the sea ice in the Arctic is an annual process, usually taking place between March and September.

Previous records for sea ice melt were set in 2007 when warmer and sunnier than usual conditions, and extremely warm ocean water and winds worked together to shrink sea ice cover to 1.66 million square miles – 39% below the long term average.

Scambos says this year’s melt – which could go as low as 1.5 million square miles – represents the “new norm” rather than the extreme conditions experienced in 2007, with lows also being experience in 2011.

The melt season this year begun 10 days to two weeks earlier than expected , according to the NSIDC data and if the sea ice record is broken this month, it will also be unusually early in the season – last year’s low point came on 9 September.

Earlier this month, images from the European Space Agency led to predictions that the Arctic could be sea ice free in summer months by the end of the decade.

Scambos says the sea ice decline shows signs of happening faster than projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and there are clear signs that man-made climate change is contributing to the decline.

Both warming oceans and a warming atmosphere are linked with the decline of sea ice in the Arctic.

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The decline is important as it keeps the polar region cool and helps to moderate global climate.

As the sea ice melts – revealing the darker ocean below – more heat is absorbed into the oceans, which would normally have been reflected off the ice into the atmosphere, further heating the region.

Earlier this year, research found that Arctic ice melt could already be impacting on the weather in the Northern Hemisphere’s middle latitudes, increasing the chance and frequency of severe winter weather in the US, Canada and Eastern Europe.

This summer has also seen unusual melting on the Arctic Greenland ice sheet. This month images from NASA showed that for a few days in July when 97% of the northern island’s surface was thawing.

One scientist from the City College of New York said that the Greenland Ice Sheet had also shattered records this year for melting.

“It just simply doesn’t look like what a polar scientist expects the Arctic to look like,” said Scambos. “It’s wide open and the (ice) cap is very small. It’s a visceral thing. You look at it and that just doesn’t look like the Arctic Ocean anymore.

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