The Arctic could become virtually ice-free by 2017 for the first time in 100,000 years, a leading scientist has told the Independent.
Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, cited new statistics from the National Snow and Ice Data Center which showed that as of June, Arctic sea ice had slimmed down to about 11 million square kilometers—lower than the last 30 years' average of 12.7 million square kilometers—and it continues to melt.
At that rate, Wadhams said, "Arctic ice may well disappear, that is, have an area of less than one million square kilometers for September of this year."
"Even if the ice doesn't completely disappear, it is very likely that this will be a record low year. I'm convinced it will be less than 3.4 million square kilometers [the current record low]," he continued. "I think there's a reasonable chance it could get down to a million this year and if it doesn't do it this year, it will do it next year."
Sea ice tends to be at its lowest levels in September, and grows again during winter.
Wadhams, who first warned that Arctic ice would disappear four years ago, said the figures from the Center align with his prediction.
The last time the Arctic could be said to be free of ice—meaning none in "the central part of the Arctic and the North Pole," Wadhams explained—is believed to be about 100,000 to 120,000 years ago.
Retreating sea ice is linked to extreme weather and rising waters, which cause increased floods and out-of-season tornadoes in the U.S. and UK. Moreover, fewer glaciers mean a darker surface of the Earth, which in turn increases absorption of the sun's energy.
Other climate experts heralded Wadham's warning, though they questioned whether the full ice loss would occur this year. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, told the Independent it was more likely to happen between 2030 and 2050. However, she added, "We are definitely looking at a very unusual situation up in the Arctic."
"The ice is very low and there have been record-breaking low amounts of ice in January, February, March, April and now May, so this is very worrisome," Francis said. "I think we are going to see perhaps a new record [in September], that's very possible."