WASHINGTON - The Arctic ice cap keeps melting under the
effects of global warming and in August saw its second largest summer
shrinkage since satellite observations began 30 years ago, US
Measurements on August 26 showed an ice cap of
5.26 million square kilometers (2.03 million square miles), just below
the 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) observed
on 21 September 2005, making it the second biggest summer Arctic
ice-cap melt in history, said the National Snow and Ice Data Center
Since the start of August, the Boulder, Colorado-based
center said, the Arctic polar cap shrank by 2.06 million square
kilometers (0.8 million square miles).
The melting is so fast and
extensive it could shrink the ice cap to below the 4.25 million square
kilometers (1.64 million square miles) reached in the summer of 2007,
the smallest it has ever been observed by satellites, the center said.
the end of the Arctic summer and the start of the freezing autumn is
several weeks away, it said, the ice cap could dwindle even more than
it did in 2007.
At the end of northern hemisphere summer 2007,
the Arctic ice cap was 40 percent smaller than the average 7.23 million
square kilometers (2.8 million square miles) observed in 1979-2000, the
The North Pole melting season begins in mid-June. The
ice cap shrinks to its smallest area by mid-September and grows the
most in winter by mid-March.
"The bottom line, however, is that
the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the
past decade continues," the Center said in a report.
Pole itself could even become free of ice by September for the first
time in modern history, setting a new milestone in the effects of
global warming on the Arctic ice shelf, NSIDC glaciologist Mark Serreze
told AFP in late June.
"We could have no ice at the North Pole at
the end of this summer. And the reason here is that the North Pole area
right now is covered with very thin ice, and this ice we call
'first-year ice,' the ice that tends to melt out in the summer," he
Serrreze said the possibility the ice cap could vanish stood at 50 percent.
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If it does happen in September, he added, "it's possible that ships could sail from Alaska right to the North Pole".
The Arctic has been free of ice in the geologic history of the Earth, but never in modern history, Serreze said.
if you look over what we have seen in the past three years and where we
were headed, we are in ... this long-term decline and we may have no
ice at all in the Arctic Ocean in summer by 2030 or so," he added.
Not long ago, he said, the summer disappearance of the Arctic ice was predicted to happen between 2050 and 2100.
NSIDC said the receding North Pole ice sheet was chiefly caused by the
melting of ice in the Chukchi Sea, off the Alaskan coast, and the East
Siberian Seas, off the coast of eastern Russia.
The Chukchi ice
sheet is one of the natural habitats of the polar bear, where it hunts
for seals, and its disappearance is a direct threat to the animal's
The vanishing summer polar ice cap, however, also opens
up the fabled Northwest Passage that winds through the northern
Canadian islands and links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
routes using the Northwest Passage would spare very long detours
through the Panama Canal and around South America's Cape Horn.
ice-free North Pole would also expose untold wealth of natural
resources, including oil and natural gas, locked up beneath the Arctic
Ocean waters, which Canada and Russia are already eagerly preparing to