Friday, September 2, 2011

Arctic sea ice shrinks, ice free summer looms

Arctic sea ice cover has already shrunk to its third lowest level on record this year, in an irreversible trend which may see an ice-free summer around 2030, said the head of the world's main monitoring centre.

The sea ice area will be reduced further in the next two weeks but was unlikely to beat a 2007 retreat in a 32-year satellite data record, said Mark Serreze, director of the U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

While sea ice does not raise sea levels when it melts, just as melting ice in a glass of water, an ice-free summer would have implications for the exploitation of resources in the area, scientists say. It could also disrupt weather patterns or cause the Greenland ice sheet to melt more rapidly.

Exxon Mobil Corp and Rosneft signed an agreement on Tuesday to extract oil and gas from the Russian Arctic, in exploration which may be assisted by the recent trend of summer sea ice retreat north of Russia.

"The numbers today are saying that if all further melt stopped right now it would be the third most in the satellite record," Serreze said on Thursday.

"We just dropped below 4.6 million square kilometres and that's what we had in 2010 (at the minimum). We're continuing the overall pattern of loss, and there's still a couple of weeks to go in the melt season." more