SEA ice in the Arctic is melting at a record pace this year, suggesting warming at the North Pole is speeding up and a largely ice-free Arctic can be expected in summer months within 30 years.

The area of the Arctic ocean at least 15 per cent covered in ice is this week about 8.5m sq km — lower than the previous record low set in 2007 — according to satellite monitoring by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado. In addition, new data from the University of Washington Polar Science Centre, shows that the thickness of Arctic ice this year is also the lowest on record.

In the past 10 days, the Arctic ocean has been losing as much as 150,000 sq km of sea a day, said Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC. “The extent [of the ice cover] is going down, but it is also thinning. So a weather pattern that formerly would melt some ice, now gets rid of much more. There will be ups and downs, but we are on track to see an ice-free summer by 2030. It is an overall downward spiral.”

Global warming has been melting Arctic sea ice for the past 30 years at a rate of about 3 per cent per decade on average. But the two new data sets suggest that, if current trends continue, a largely ice-free Arctic in summer months is likely within 30 years. That is up to 40 years earlier than was anticipated in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report.

Sea ice, which is at its maximum extent in March and its lowest in September each year, is widely considered to be one of the “canaries in the mine” for climate change, because the poles are heating up faster than anywhere else on Earth. According to NSIDC, air temperatures for June 2011 were between 1°C and 4°C warmer than average over most of the Arctic Ocean. Science

The findings support a recent study in the journal that suggested water flowing from the Atlantic into the Arctic ocean is warmer today than at any time in the past 2,000 years and could be one of the explanations for the rapid sea ice melt now being observed.

Computer simulations performed by Nasa suggest that the retreat of Arctic sea ice will not continue at a constant rate. Instead the simulations show a series of abrupt decreases such as the one that occurred in 2007, when a “perfect storm” of weather conditions coincided and more ice was lost in one year than in the previous 28 years combined. Compared to the 1950s, over half of the Arctic sea ice had disappeared. n

What concerns polar scientists is that thicker ice which does not melt in the summer is not being formed fast as the ice is melting. On average each year about half of the first year ice, formed between September and March, melts during the following summer. This year, says Jeff Masters, founder of the Weather Underground climate monitoring website, a high pressure system centred north of Alaska has brought clear skies and plenty of ice-melting sunshine to the Arctic. The Guardian, London

— By John Vidal

Opinion

Sialkot speaks
31 Jul 2021

Sialkot speaks

The PML-N leadership is shell-shocked. A drubbing by the PTI in Sialkot? In the heart of Sharif territory?
Who messed up Afghanistan?
Updated 31 Jul 2021

Who messed up Afghanistan?

Russia and USA are squarely responsible for Afghanistan’s tragedy but Pakistan is certainly not innocent.

Editorial

China-Taliban meeting
Updated 31 Jul 2021

China-Taliban meeting

WITH the government in Kabul appearing to stand on very fragile foundations, and as the clock ticks down to the ...
31 Jul 2021

Outages in Makran

IT is no surprise that people in Balochistan’s Makran Division have of late taken to the streets to protest in the...
31 Jul 2021

Reduction in polio cases

AFTER the long and tedious efforts of those running the national polio programme, there are signs that Pakistan ...
30 Jul 2021

Judge’s elevation

A CONTROVERSY roiling the legal fraternity for a few weeks has come to a head. It was precipitated by the Judicial...
PTI’s Sialkot win
30 Jul 2021

PTI’s Sialkot win

The PML-N’s internal duality is a particularly acute factor that is dragging down the party in electoral contests.
30 Jul 2021

Attack on Chinese

AN attack targeting two Chinese nationals in Karachi on Wednesday should put the security apparatus on alert in ...