Global warming devastates sea ice in Arctic Circle

A A A

Sea ice in the Arctic last month melted to its second lowest monthly minimum in the 29-year record of satellite measurements.

Scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Colorado said the total surface area covered by sea ice during September was smaller than in any previous year apart from 2005, when it reached an all-time record minimum. And it was only a sudden change to cool and stormy weather in August that prevented another record low being set this September, they said.

"At this rate, the Arctic Ocean will have no ice in September by the year 2060," said Julienne Strove, one of the NSIDC's research scientists.

The Arctic sea ice floats on the ocean and its surface coverage varies naturally in line with seasonal temperature changes, with an absolute minimum in summer occurring around mid-September.

However, rising temperatures have seen a steady long-term decline in sea ice during the summer months, with little recovery during the Arctic winter.

Summer sea ice across the entire Arctic has been dwindling steadily since satellite measurements began in 1977. But since 2002 scientists have detected a noticeable acceleration in the rate of summer loss, which they believe is caused by global warming.

Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the NSIDC, said this summer could easily have surpassed last year's record loss if it had not been for the change in the weather.

"If fairly cool and stormy conditions hadn't appeared in August, slowing the rate of summer ice loss, I feel certain that 2006 would have surpassed last year's record low for September sea ice," Dr Serreze said.

"August broke the Arctic heatwave and slowed the melt, and storm conditions led to wind patterns that tend to spread the existing ice over a larger area."

Arctic sea ice acts like an insulating lid on the northernmost ocean, reflecting sunlight and preventing the water from absorbing heat and warming up.

Scientists fear that as more and more sea ice is lost, a "positive feedback" will kick in, with the Arctic Ocean absorbing more sunlight, which will in turn cause the loss of more sea ice.

"I'm not terribly optimistic about the future of the ice," Dr Serreze said. "Although it would come as no surprise to see some recovery of the sea ice in the next few years - such fluctuations are part of natural variability - the long-term trend seems increasingly clear. As greenhouse gases continue to rise, the Arctic will continue to lose its ice. You can't argue with the physics."

The Arctic has seen some of the largest increases in average temperatures in the world over the past few decades, and could be one of the places hardest hit by climate change.

"Arctic sea ice is an important climate indicator because it's so sensitive to this initial warming trend," said Ted Scambos, a senior scientist at the Snow and Ice Data Centre.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003