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LUCI ORMROD 2 COLUMN


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THE FREEZER DEFROSTS

Dramatic melting of sea ice due to global warming is having a major impact on the polar region

John Vidal


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Arctic sea ice is set to reach its lowest ever recorded extent as early as this weekend, in “dramatic changes” signalling that manmade global warming is having a major impact on the polar region.

With the melt happening at an unprecedented rate of more than 100,000 sq km a day, and at least a week of further melt expected before ice begins to reform ahead of the northern winter, satellites are expected to confirm the record – currently set in 2007 – within days. “Unless something really unusual happens we will see the record broken in the next few days. It might happen this weekend, almost certainly next week,” Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, told the Guardian. “In the last few days it has been losing 100,000 sq km a day, a record in itself for August. A storm has spread the ice pack out, opening up water, bringing up warmer water. Things are definitely changing quickly.” Because ice thickness, volume, extent and area are all measured differently, it may be a week before there is unanimous agreement among the world’s cryologists (ice experts) that 2012 is a record year. Four out of the nine daily sea ice extent and area graphs kept by scientists in the US, Europe and Asia suggest that records have already been broken. “The whole energy balance of the Arctic is changing. There’s more heat up there. “Only 15 years ago I didn’t expect to see such dramatic changes – no one did. The ice-free season is far longer now. Twenty years ago it was about a month. Now it’s three months. Temperatures last week in the Arctic were 14C, which is pretty warm.” Scientists at the Danish Meteorological Institute, the Arctic Regional Ocean Observing System in Norway and others in Japan have said the ice is very close to its minimum recorded in 2007. The University of Bremen, whose data does not take into account ice along a 30km coastal zone, says it sees ice extent below the all-time record low of 4.33m sq km recorded in September 2007. Ice volume in the Arctic has declined dramatically over the past decade. The 2011 minimum was more than 50% below that of 2005. According to the Polar Science Centre at the University of Washington it now stands at around 5,770 cubic kilometres,

compared with 12,433 cu km during the 2000s and 6,494 cu km in 2011. The ice volume for 31 July 2012 was roughly 10% below the value for the same day in 2011. A new study by UK scientists suggests that 900 cu km of summer sea ice has disappeared from the Arctic Ocean over the past year. Julienne Stroeve, from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, is here to track and "characterise" the ice we pass though. She mostly works from satellite data, but they can't tell the quality or age of the ice or the way it is moving. Greenpeace has its own plans, which I can't divulge, but what ice pilot Arne Sorensen is looking for is a stable ice floe at least two metres thick, 100 yards long and a little less wide. The Arctic Sunrise will then attempt to moor up against it. Then, polar bears, fog, time, weather, ice and much else permitting, we will descend on to the ice for much of the week.


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“The disappearing Arctic still serves as a stark warning to us all. Data shows us that the frozen north is teetering on the brink. The level of ice ‘has remained far below average’ and appears to be getting thinner, leaving it more vulnerable to future melting. The consequences of further rapid ice loss at the top of the world are of profound importance to the whole planet. This is not a warning we can afford to ignore.” Greenpeace spokesman


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