‘Heatwave’ in Arctic decimating sea ice

‘Heatwave’ in Arctic decimating sea ice

Posted 21 July 2011, by Jeremy Hance, Mongabay, mongabay.com

Arctic sea ice could hit a record low by the end of the summer due to temperatures in the North Pole that are an astounding 11 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (6 to 8 degrees Celsius) above average in the first half of July, reports the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Already the sea ice extent is tracking below this time in 2007, which remains the record year for the lowest sea ice extent. The sea ice hits its nadir in September before rebounding during the Arctic winter.

On July 17th sea ice extended 2.92 million square miles (7.56 million square kilometers), which is 865,000 square miles (2.24 million square kilometers) below the average sea ice from 1979 to 2000. Already the sea ice maximum this year (hit in March) was tied with 2006 for the lowest ever. The sea ice melt also began earlier than usual this year.

Experts predict that sea ice could vanish entirely from the Arctic during the summer within a few decades due to worsening climate change with massive impacts for the fragile Arctic ecosystems. A recent study found that the declining sea ice was forcing polar bears to make marathon swims and likely increasing mortality among cubs. While polar bears have become the symbol of the perils of declining sea ice in the fragile Arctic environment, a number of other species could suffer from less sea ice including narwhals, ringed seals, and walruses. Sea ice is also vital for the global climate. Reflecting sunlight, the sea ice keeps the Arctic cool and impacts global weather systems.

Average temperatures in the Arctic are rising around twice as fast as global temperatures, making the region especially sensitive to climate change.

Yet the melting Arctic has been seen by a number of Arctic governments not as a warning of climate change impacts, but as a chance to increase industrial exploitation of the region, including deep sea oil and gas drilling, and commercial fisheries.



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