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Arctic Ocean Ice Shrinking at Record Pace

Aug 18, 2012 04:42 AM EDT
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NASA's ICON satellite to study ionosphere, space weather

An all time high sea ice shrinking pace has been recorded in the Arctic Ocean with the ice covered area in the Ocean sinking to 1.9 million square miles on an average for the five days since Wednesday.

With as many as five weeks of the annual melting season remaining, it's already the fourth-lowest annual minimum ever measured. "Unless the melting really, really slows down, there's a very real chance of a record," Walt Meier, a research scientist at the snow and ice center, said in a telephone interview. "In the last week or so it's dropped precipitously."

According to Meier, this is a clear indication of global warming and researchers fear that the Arctic Ocean may become largely ice free in the summer. This could also be a plus point when you look at it from a commercial point of view, says Meier

"There's a whole new front line from a strategic standpoint," said Cleo Paskal, a geopolitical analyst at Chatham House, a policy adviser in London. "Countries that have been kept apart by a wall of ice are now facing each other for the first time, and countries like China are slipping up through the middle."

"Preliminary analysis of our data indicates that the rate of loss of sea ice volume in summer in the Arctic may be far larger than we had previously suspected," Dr. Seymour Laxon, of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL), told the Guardian. "Very soon we may experience the iconic moment when, one day in the summer, we look at satellite images and see no sea ice coverage in the Arctic, just open water."

However, some serious concerns have also been raised. "Our greatest concern is that loss of Arctic sea ice creates a grave threat of passing two other tipping points -- the potential instability of the Greenland ice sheet and methane hydrates," NASA's top climate scientist, James Hansen, told Bloomberg. "These latter two tipping points would have consequences that are practically irreversible on time scales of relevance to humanity."

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