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Alarming: Arctic sea ice breaks record of a mere three weeks ago

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 20th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Good news: New sea ice is finally starting to form again in the Arctic, scientists say. Bad news: Arctic ice set a record new low, even beating out the record set a mere three weeks ago.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "We are now in uncharted territory," warns Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The center released the record low of 1.32 million square miles, nearly half the average extent from 1979 to 2010. The extent has been tracked by satellite since 1979.

"While we've long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic," he added, "few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur."

It's a disturbing trend with global implications. Many experts expect the Arctic to be free of sea ice in summer at some point between 2015 and 2050.

"Recent climate models suggest that ice-free conditions may happen before 2050," center scientist Julienne Stroeve says. The recent sudden rate of decline, she says "remains faster than many of the models are able to capture."

These statistics come after the center reported last month that the summer sea ice on August 26 had broken the previous record low set in 2007 of 1.61 million square miles. On August 26 the sea ice extent was 1.58 million square miles, it said.

"We're smashing a record that smashed a record," center scientist Walt Meier said.

Summer sea ice would cover an area a bit smaller than the Lower 48 states in the U.S. in the 1980s. The amount is just about half that. The difference between this year's low and that of 2007 is 293,000 square miles -- the size of Texas.

Conditions favorable to new sea ice are taking longer to arrive. The density of the ice is also in decline.

"The strong late season decline is indicative of how thin the ice cover is," Meier said. "Ice has to be quite thin to continue melting away as the sun goes down and fall approaches."

"The core of the ice cap is the perennial ice, which normally survived the summer because it was so thick", Joey Comiso, a NASA scientist who uses satellites to study the ice said. "But because it's been thinning year after year, it has now become vulnerable to melt."

NASA has also noted that an August storm off Alaska's coast has moved to the center of the Arctic Ocean had an impact on ice levels.

"The storm definitely seems to have played a role in this year's unusually large retreat of the ice", NASA scientist Claire Parkinson says. "But that exact same storm, had it occurred decades ago when the ice was thicker and more extensive, likely wouldn't have had as prominent an impact, because the ice wasn't as vulnerable then as it is now."

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