The Arctic ice cap is melting at a startlingly rapid rate and may shrink to its smallest-ever level within weeks -- and then keep on melting.
The rapid ice melt began much earlier than usual this year. Arctic ice melting usually slows in August and then reaches its annual low point by September. But 2012 is already set to see a lowest-ever melting point by mid-August -- with no sign of the melting slowing.
"The numbers are coming in and we are looking at them with a sense of amazement," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the university. "If the melt were to just suddenly stop today, we would be at the third lowest in the satellite record. We've still got another two weeks of melt to go, so I think we're very likely to set a new record."
Agence France Presse reports:
The previous record was set in 2007 when the ice cap shrunk to 4.25 million square kilometers (1.64 million square miles), stunning scientists who had not forecast such a drastic melt so soon. Serreze said that the extensive melt was in line with the effects of global warming, with the ice being hit by a double whammy of rising temperatures in the atmosphere and warmer oceans. "The ice now is so thin in the spring just because of the general pattern of warming that large parts of the pack ice just can't survive the summer melt season anymore," he said. [...]
Serreze said it was possible that the rapid melt was a factor in severe storms witnessed in recent years in the United States and elsewhere as it changed the nature of the planet's temperature gradients.
The planet has charted a slew of record temperatures in recent years. In the continental United States, July was the hottest ever recorded with temperatures 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 Celsius) higher than the average in the 20th century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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