The most recent bulletin, issued at the end of August by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, has found that the extent of Arctic sea ice “has fallen below the 2005 minimum, previously the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era.”
The NSIDC added: “Will 2008 also break the standing record low, set in 2007? We will know in the next several weeks, when the melt season comes to a close. The bottom line, however, is that the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent characterizing the past decade continues.”
Current conditions, as compiled by the NSIDC, show that “with several weeks left in the melt season, sea ice extent dipped below the 2005 minimum to stand as the second-lowest in the satellite record. The 2005 minimum, at 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles), held the record-low minimum until last year. Recent ice retreat primarily reflects melt in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast and the East Siberian Seas off the coast of eastern Russia.”
As of August 26, Arctic sea ice extent “was 5.26 million square kilometers (2.03 million square miles), a decline of 2.06 million square kilometers (795,000 square miles) since the beginning of the month,” the report continued. “Extent is now within 430,000 square kilometers (166,000 square miles) of last year’s value on the same date and is 1.97 million square kilometers (760,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.”
The NSIDC also noted: “Through the beginning of the melt season in May until early August, daily ice extent for 2008 closely tracked the values for 2005. In early August of 2005, the decline began to slow; in August of 2008, the decline has remained steadily downward at a brisk pace. The 2005 minimum of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) occurred on September 21.”
The ongoing decline in the amount of Arctic sea ice is expected to produce serious consequences. Although it doesn’t mean an immediate rise in sea levels, the NSIDC points out that “Arctic sea ice reflects sunlight, keeping the polar regions cool and moderating global climate.”
With less sunlight being reflected off of the earth’s surface by the ice, more heat is absorbed and the planet’s warming is increased. The NSIDC said that, “according to scientific measurements, Arctic sea ice has declined dramatically over at least the past thirty years, with the most extreme decline seen in the summer melt season.”
Scientists who study the Arctic are increasingly worried that the decline in the amount of sea ice is rapidly reaching a “tipping point;” i.e. as the level of ice declines, it will reach a point where reestablishing the ice is no longer possible.
Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center – http://nsidc.org
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