London: The area of the Arctic Ocean covered by floating sea ice is likely to hit a record low next week, with the melting due to continue well into September, researchers monitoring the region by satellite have revealed.
Arctic sea ice partially melts each summer and reforms again in the winter, but over the past 35 years of satellite readings the summer retreat has been getting significantly greater, with a record summer minimum recorded in September 2007.
However, scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, said that this summer’s melt season in the Arctic has been so rapid and extensive that 2012 will almost certainly see sea ice coverage reach a new low.
“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,” the Independent quoted Ted Scambos, a sea-ice specialist at the centre, as saying.
“What you’re seeing is more open ocean than you’re seeing ice… It just simply doesn’t look like what a polar scientist expects the Arctic to look like. It’s wide open and the [ice] cap is very small,” he said.
According to scientists, the Arctic has seen some of the greatest increases in average temperatures over recent decades due to global warming, resulting in a significant retreat of the sea ice both in terms of surface area and ice thickness.
“Everything about this points in the same direction – we`ve made the Earth warmer,” Dr Scambos said.
Computer models initially suggested that the Arctic could be completely ice free in summer by the end of the 21st century, but more recent studies suggest that ice-free summers could occur as early as 2035, and possibly even within the next 10 years.
The satellite data analysed by NSIDC looked only at surface area coverage, rather than ice thickness, and the scientists judge that an area is “ice free” when the coverage of the sea surface falls below 15 percent.
However, other satellite studies using data from the European Cryosat-2, which is able to measure sea ice thickness, have found that, the loss of sea ice volume in the Arctic may be 50 percent greater than previously suspected.