Archive for Monday, August 10, 2009

Arctic ice melts at alarming speed

August 10, 2009


— The Arctic Ocean has given up tens of thousands more square miles of ice on Sunday in a relentless summer of melt, with scientists watching through satellite eyes for a possible record low polar ice cap.

From the barren Arctic shore of this village in Canada’s far northwest, 1,500 miles north of Seattle, veteran observer Eddie Gruben has seen the summer ice retreating more each decade as the world has warmed. By this weekend the ice edge lay some 80 miles at sea.

“Forty years ago, it was 40 miles out,” said Gruben, 89, patriarch of a local contracting business.

Global average temperatures rose 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, but Arctic temperatures rose twice as much or even faster, almost certainly in good part because of manmade greenhouse gases, researchers say.

In late July the mercury soared to almost 86 degrees Fahrenheit in this settlement of 900 Inuvialuit, the name for western Arctic Eskimos.

“The water was really warm,” Gruben said. “The kids were swimming in the ocean.”

As of Thursday, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported, the polar ice cap extended over 2.61 million square miles after having shrunk an average 41,000 square miles a day in July — equivalent to one Indiana or three Belgiums daily.

The rate of melt was similar to that of July 2007, the year when the ice cap dwindled to a record low minimum extent of 1.7 million square miles in September.

In its latest analysis, the Colorado-based NSIDC said Arctic atmospheric conditions this summer have been similar to those of the summer of 2007, including a high-pressure ridge that produced clear skies and strong melt in the Beaufort Sea, the arm of the Arctic Ocean off northern Alaska and northwestern Canada.

In July, “we saw acceleration in loss of ice,” the U.S. center’s Walt Meier told The Associated Press. In recent days the pace has slowed, making a record-breaking final minimum “less likely but still possible,” he said.


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