- Politics and Social Issues
Arctic Sea Ice Melting Much Faster Than Expected
One of the primary means of collecting data about the critical situation facing the Arctic with regards to rapid climate change is through satellite photography of the extent of sea ice in the summer. By comparing the amount of visible ice from month to month and from year to year as viewed from orbit, climate scientists have been keeping track of how much ice is left at the maximum extent of the Arctic summer which occurs in early September. However, it seems that some very worrysome research results from a Canadian Arctic scientist have shown that the amount of ice loss is far greater than can be seen from space.
Data accumulated in the Arctic regions of Canada and Russia in the past couple of years had been indicating that the extent of the sea ice in the Arctic in the northern summer had been recovering somewhat from its record-setting low extent in 2007 summer. This was a phenomenon which was attributed to global warming. However Professor David Barber, the Canada Research Chair at the University of Manitoba's Arctic System Science Department, has spent a significant amount of time in the Arctic and just published a paper which has negated the previous findings.
In the Geophysical Research Letters journal Prof. Barber has reported that the data which showed the sea ice that had been making a recovery is entirely fallacious. Prof. Barber his research team has discovered that although the ice sheets, as seen from the air, have increased somewhat in total area in the midst of the northern summer in the Arctic Ocean, the total volume of ice is actually down by a significant amount.
What has occurred is that the ice sheets themselves have now become riddled with channels and holes due to the melting, so although they may still extend out for hundreds or thousands of kilometers, the total weight of ice that they contain has decreased by as much as eighty percent. These ice sheets are mostly hollow, almost like Swiss cheese, and extremely fragile. Some will not even support the weight of a man or a polar bear.
According to Prof. Barber these findings are extremely significant since they indicate that the amount of ice mass since 2007's lowest recorded visual extent has not been increasing but actually decreasing. The multi-year sea ice is usually tens or hundreds of feet thick, completely solid and contains enormous amounts of water trapped in ice form. What much of this Arctic ice is as of the last summer is barely a shadow of its former self.
This means that the thick multi-year ice in the Arctic Sea, to some significant extent, no longer exists. The usual extent of sea ice in the Arctic as previously historically recorded is 14 million square kilometers (5.4 million square miles) but in 2007, satellite photographs showed that only 4.3 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles) were left. In 2008, 4.7 million square kilometers (1.8 million square miles) were left and in 2009 the sea ice went to 5.4 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles).