For Immediate Release
Statement by Center for Biological Diversity on 2008 Arctic Sea Ice Minimum
Second Lowest Level Ever Recorded Is Yet Another Wake-Up Call
BOULDER, Colo. - The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported today that the Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its lowest level of the year. At 1.74 million square miles, the 2008 sea ice extent is the second lowest ever recorded and 860,000 square miles below the average minimum sea ice extent between 1979-2000, representing a loss of 33 percent of the ice pack - an area of ice larger than Alaska, Texas, and West Virginia combined.
"The continued drastic melting of the Arctic sea ice is a disaster for the polar bear and a harbinger of what's to come for the rest of the world if we don't reduce greenhouse emissions," said Kassie Siegel, climate program director for the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the 2005 petition to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. "There couldn't be a clearer warning sign. With so many effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sitting on the table today - such as increasing fuel economy, improving building energy efficiency, and increasing renewable energy - we will look back and ask ourselves how we could possibly have allowed this to happen."
The melting of Arctic sea ice threatens polar bears with extinction, as they struggle to swim unprecedented distances between the land and ice edge. Polar bears need sea ice as a platform to hunt seals, which are primarily found over the shallow waters of the continental shelf. In recent summers, polar bears have been faced with the choice of staying with the pack ice as it retreats hundreds of miles offshore or remaining on land, where they cannot hunt seals.
The increased distance between land and the ice edge also has led to more polar bears swimming in open water and an increased risk of drowning. In 2004, researchers with the U.S. Minerals Management Service discovered the carcasses of four bears that had drowned in the Beaufort Sea during a period of high winds and rough seas between Sept. 10 and 13, 2004. Because the scientists were able to observe only a relatively small area during their aerial surveys, they estimated that up to 27 bears may have died during this time. This summer, one dead bear washed up on the beach at Wainwright, Alaska, in July, and surveys conducted on August 16th documented nine polar bears swimming in open water in the Chukchi Sea off the northwestern coast of Alaska, in an area recently opened for offshore oil exploration. One bear was more than 50 miles from land.
The polar bear was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act on May 15 following a petition and two successful lawsuits to force the Bush administration to act. The state of Alaska filed suit on August 4th to overturn the listing. The Bush administration, which has opposed all mandatory regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, is now proposing to modify the Endangered Species Act to exempt federal agencies from their duty to analyze the effect of greenhouse gas emissions on the polar bear and other listed species.
Leading climate scientists warn that carbon dioxide concentrations, which now stand at greater than 385 parts per million (ppm) must be reduced to less than 350 ppm relatively quickly in order to prevent rapid and accelerating warming, which would exterminate thousands of plants and animals, raise sea level by 20 feet or more and lead to untold human suffering.
"It is just amazing that while the ice continues to melt and polar bears are fighting for their lives, the governor of Alaska is seeking to overturn protection for the polar bear and Congress is talking about opening new areas to oil development," Siegel said. "We must demand that our elected officials stop this nonsense and get serious about reducing greenhouse emissions. We must protect polar bear habitat, not open it up to oil leasing."
Current sea ice data is available at http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/