Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Arctic sea ice shatters record low: diminished ice leads to Northwest Passage opening

University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center says Arctic sea ice extent may have fallen by 50 percent since 1950s

Arctic sea ice during the 2007 melt season plummeted to the lowest levels since satellite measurements began in 1979, according to researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The average sea ice extent for the month of September was 1.65 million square miles (4.28 million square kilometers), the lowest September on record, shattering the previous record for the month by 23 percent, which was set in 2005. At the end of the melt season, September 2007 sea ice was 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000.

If ship and aircraft records from before the satellite era are taken into account, sea ice may have fallen by as much as 50 percent from the 1950s. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 is now more than 10 percent per decade, said the CU-Boulder research team.

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Arctic sea ice has long been recognized as a sensitive climate indicator, said CU-Boulder Research Professor Mark Serreze of CIRES and NSIDC. "Computer projections have consistently shown that as global temperatures rise, the sea ice cover will begin to shrink," he said. "While a number of natural factors have certainly contributed to the overall decline in sea ice, the effects of greenhouse warming are now coming through loud and clear."

One factor that contributed to this fall's extreme decline was that the ice was entering the melt season in an already weakened state, said CIRES Research Associate Julienne Stroeve of NSIDC. "The spring of 2007 started out with less ice than normal, as well as thinner ice. Thinner ice takes less energy to melt than thicker ice, so the stage was set for low levels of sea ice this summer."

Another factor that conspired to accelerate the ice loss this summer was an unusual atmospheric pattern, with persistent high atmospheric pressures over the central Arctic Ocean and lower pressures over Siberia. The scientists noted that skies were fairly clear under the high-pressure cell, promoting strong melt.

At the same time, the pattern of winds pumped warm air into the region. While the warm winds fostered further melt, they also helped push ice away from the Siberian shore. "While the decline of the ice started out fairly slowly in spring and early summer, it accelerated rapidly in July," said Walt Meier, a CIRES researcher at NSIDC. "By mid-August, we had already shattered all previous records for ice extent."

Arctic sea ice receded so much that the fabled Northwest Passage completely opened for the first time in human memory, said the team. Explorers and other seafarers had long recognized that this passage, through the straits of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, represented a potential shortcut from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Roald Amundsen began the first successful navigation of the route starting in 1903. It took his hardy group two-and-a-half years to leapfrog through narrow passages of open water, with their ship locked in the frozen ice through two cold, dark winters. More recently, icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships have on occasion traversed the normally ice-choked route.

However, by the end of the 2007 melt season, a standard ocean-going vessel could have sailed smoothly through. On the other hand, the Northern Sea Route, a shortcut along the Eurasian coast that is often at least partially open, was completely blocked by a band of ice this year, said the researchers.

In addition to the record-breaking retreat of sea ice, the team also noted that the date of the lowest sea ice extent, or the absolute minimum, has shifted to later in the year. This year, the five-day running minimum occurred on Sept 16. From 1979 to 2000, the minimum usually occurred on Sept. 12.

CIRES Research Associate and NSIDC Senior Scientist Ted Scambos said, "What we've seen this year fits the profile of lengthening melt seasons, which is no surprise. As the system warms up, spring melt will tend to come earlier and autumn freezing will begin later."

Changes in sea ice extent, timing, ice thickness and seasonal fluctuations are already having an impact on the people, plants, and animals that live in the Arctic. "Local people who live in the region are noticing the changes in sea ice," said Arctic resident Shari Gearheard of CU-Boulder's NSIDC. "The earlier break up and later freeze up affect when and where people can go hunting, as well as safety for travel."

The CU-Boulder research team monitors and studies Arctic sea ice year round, analyzing satellite data and seeking to understand the regional changes and complex feedbacks, said Serreze. "The sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return," he said. "'As the years go by, we are losing more and more ice in summer, and growing back less and less ice in winter.

"We may well see an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer within our lifetimes," said Serreze, noting scientists agree such an event could occur by 2030. "The implications for global climate, as well as Arctic animals and people, are disturbing."

Stephanie Renfrow | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>