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Climate change causing rapid reduction in sea ice: An ice free Arctic summer by 2016?
Arctic summer sea ice is at a new record low level since satellite measurements began recording data in 1979. The summer minimum is down to about 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers), half the average summer ice between 1979 and 2000. The minimum record was last set in 2007 with this year's sea-ice extent being about 18% lower than 2007. Some scientists predict we may see summer sea ice vanish by 2015-16, well ahead of International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Report predictions.
"The polar meltdown shows we're teetering on the brink of climate-change catastrophe," said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "Arctic sea ice plays a critical role in regulating the planet's climate. As man-made global warming shrinks the ice, our risk of droughts and other extreme weather goes up. We can't wait any longer to cut carbon pollution."
See also: Classic climate feedback: Arctic Sea Ice Extent lowest on record and still shrinking | Arctic warming at more than double the global warming average | Sea ice volume: Multi-year arctic sea ice reducing dramatically
With the arctic warming at a much greater pace than more temperate and tropical latitudes, the loss of arctic summer ice is a climate feedback mechanism that engenders further warming. This warming influences changes in the jet stream impacting the frequency of extreme weather events in mid latitutude regions of the northern hemisphere. Thus we are seeing an increase in the number and intensity of droughts, heat waves, cold spells and flood events.
"Polar bears, walruses and seals in the Arctic depend on sea ice for their survival and it's literally melting beneath their feet," Wolf said. "But now it isn't just Arctic wildlife feeling the pain, the loss of sea ice has profound implications for the rest of the planet, including here in the U.S." said Shaye Wolf in a media release.
While 2007 had some extraordinary weather causing the massive reduction in summer sea ice, there was no unusual weather to cause the increase in ice loss this year. The reducation in albedo, warming atmosphere and oceans are really kicking in. Here is a video of a skype session by Peter Sinclair of Climate Denial Crock of the week with senior scientist Julienne Stroeve of the National Snow and Ice Data center, from a research station above the arctic circle about the sea ice reduction.
To accompany the diminishing extent and volume of Arctic sea ice, this year the Greenland Ice Sheet has experienced unprecedented surface melt with new research showing that the Global Warming threshold for Greenland Ice Sheet collapse reduced to 1.6 degrees C. In another climate feedback, Arctic permafrost is also thawing raising CO2 levels.
The 2007 IPCC report projected summer sea ice might disappear by the end of the century. But the thinning and reduction in extent has been happening some four times faster than projected. Some scientists like arctic sea-ice expert and Cambridge professor of Ocean Physics Peter Wadhams say we may achieve an ice free arctic by 2015.
Here is Professor Wadhams speaking in 2009 on the Catlin Arctic Survey Science Report :
Here is Peter Wadhams being interviewed by the BBC in a forthcoming program by BBC2 called Operation Icebreg:
The new summer minimum extent was announced by the National Snow and Ice Center on September 19. In New York Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International, and Bill MCKibben from 350.org released a statement below:
Arctic sea ice reaches lowest extent in recorded history - Greenpeace press statement
Heads of Greenpeace International and 350.org speak in New York to call for urgent international response to Polar crisis
New York, 19th September 2012 - Scientists from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) today released preliminary figures suggesting that Arctic sea ice has reached the lowest recorded extent since records began in 1979. The data indicates that on September 16th Arctic ice extent covered 3.41 m km2 - a drop of at least 45% since records began.
Today Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo addressed a special event in New York alongside 350.org founder Bill McKibben to call for a coordinated international response to the Polar crisis. Responding to the news from New York, Naidoo said:
"Today's announcement represents a defining moment in human history. In just over 30 years we have altered the way our planet looks from space, and soon the North Pole may be completely ice free in summer.
"Rather than dealing with the root causes of climate change the current response from our leaders is to watch the ice melt and then divide up the spoils."
"I hope that future generations will mark this day as a turning point, when a new spirit of global cooperation emerged to tackle the huge challenges we face. We must work together to protect the Arctic from the effects of climate change and unchecked corporate greed. This is now the defining environmental battle of our era."
Naidoo recently returned from the Russian Arctic where he interrupted drilling operations by climbing aboard a Gazprom oil platform.
Dr. Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the NSIDC, is currently aboard a Greenpeace ship in Svalbard, Norway in the Arctic having just returned from conducting scientific research into the region's record breaking ice melt. She said:
"This new record suggests the Arctic may have entered a new climate era, where a combination of thinner ice together with warmer air and ocean temperatures result in more ice loss each summer."
"The loss of summer sea ice has led to unusual warming of the Arctic atmosphere, that in turn impacts weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, that can result in persistent extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves and flooding."
Bill McKibben said:
"There's no place on Earth where we see the essential irony of our moment playing out more perfectly than in the Arctic. Our response has not been alarm, or panic, or a sense of emergency. It has been: 'Let's go up there and drill for oil'. There is no more perfect indictment of our failure to get to grips with the greatest problem we've ever faced."
Greenpeace is calling for the creation of a sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the North Pole and a ban on unsustainable industrial activity in the remainder of the Arctic.
Since June 2012 more than 1.8 million people have joined Greenpeace's Save the Arctic campaign (savethearctic.org), and the group intends to place an "Arctic Scroll" carrying these names on the seabed beneath the North Pole early next year as an act of opposition to corporate interest in the region.
For a full briefing on sea ice loss in the Arctic visit http://www.greenpeace.org/denmark/Global/denmark/Klima/Arktis/dokumenter/Sept2012SeaIceMinimumBriefing.pdf