fROM TO-DAY'S _iNDEPENDENT_
_Polar scientists reveal dramatic new evidence of climate change_
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Friday, 27 June 2008
It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on
course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.
The disappearance of the Arctic sea ice, making it possible to reach the
Pole sailing in a boat through open water, would be one
of the most dramatic – and worrying – examples of the impact of global
warming on the planet. Scientists say the ice at 90 degrees north may well
have melted away by the summer.
"From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the
globe, but symbolically it is hugely important.
There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water," said Mark
Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.
If it happens, it raises the prospect of the Arctic nations being able to
exploit the valuable oil and mineral deposits below these a bed
which have until now been impossible to extract because of the thick sea
Seasoned polar scientists believe the chances of a totally ice-free North
Pole this summer are greater than 50:50 because the normally
thick ice formed over many years at the Pole has been blown away and
replaced by huge swathes of thinner ice formed over a single year.
This one-year ice is highly vulnerable to melting during the summer months
and satellite data coming in over recent weeks shows that the
rate of melting is faster than last year, when there was an all-time record
loss of summer sea ice at the Arctic.
"The issue is that, for the first time that I am aware of, the North Pole is
covered with extensive first-year ice – ice that formed last autumn and
winter. I'd say it's even-odds whether the North Pole melts out," said Dr
Each summer the sea ice melts before reforming again during the long Arctic
winter but the loss of sea ice last year was so extensive
that much of the Arctic Ocean became open water, with the water-ice boundary
coming just 700 miles away from the North Pole.
This meant that about 70 per cent of the sea ice present this spring was
single-year ice formed over last winter. Scientists predict that at least 70
per cent of this single-year ice – and perhaps all of it – will melt
completely this summer, Dr Serreze said.
"Indeed, for the Arctic as a whole, the melt season started with even more
thin ice than in 2007, hence concerns that we may even beat
last year's sea-ice minimum. We'll see what happens, a great deal depends
on the weather patterns in July and August," he said.
Ron Lindsay, a polar scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle,
agreed that much now depends on what happens to the
Arctic weather in terms of wind patterns and hours of sunshine. "There's a
good chance that it will all melt away at the North Pole,
it's certainly feasible, but it's not guaranteed," Dr Lindsay said.
The polar regions are experiencing the most dramatic increase in average
temperatures due to global warming and scientists
fear that as more sea ice is lost, the darker, open ocean will absorb more
heat and raise local temperatures even further. Professor
Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, who was one of the first civilian
scientists to sail underneath the Arctic sea ice in a
Royal Navy submarine, said that the conditions are ripe for an
unprecedented melting of the ice at the North Pole.
"Last year we saw huge areas of the ocean open up, which has never been
experienced before. People are expecting this to continue
this year and it is likely to extend over the North Pole. It is quite likely
that the North Pole will be exposed this summer –
it's not happened before," Professor Wadhams said.
There are other indications that the Arctic sea ice is showing signs of
breaking up. Scientists at the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Centre
said that the North Water 'polynya' – an expanse of open water surrounded on
all sides by ice – that normally forms near Alaska and
Banks Island off the Canadian coast, is much larger than normal. Polynyas
absorb heat from the sun and eat away at the edge of the sea ice.
Inuit natives living near Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland are also
reporting that the sea ice there is starting to break up much
earlier than normal and that they have seen wide cracks appearing in the ice
where it normally remains stable. Satellite measurements collected over
nearly 30 years show a significant decline in the extent of the Arctic sea
ice, which has become more rapid in recent years.