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Images of the Day
Arctic Sea Ice Levels Expected To Reach Record Lows
August 25, 2012
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In more ways than one, this is uncool: Arctic sea ice is expected to reach its lowest level ever recorded and it could happen as early as this weekend.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), one of the foremost authorities on sea ice, has predicted that the previous low from 2007 will be broken by next week at the latest.

A webcam image from the North Pole, taken on August 22

The low levels of ice and long ice-free periods in the Arctic are surprising some scientists, who have studied them for years.

Julienne Stroeve, a scientist at the NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado, told the Guardian "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."

This chart compares average ice levels from 1979-2000 with the levels seen this year and in 2007:


There isn't complete agreement yet that 2012 is a record year. Four out of the nine daily sea ice graphs kept by scientists in the U.S., Europe and Asia have already suggested that records have been broken. It may take another week before all of the world's cryologists (ice experts - who knew that job title existed?) can come to a consensus.

One thing that is clear: ice volume in the Arctic has declined significantly over the past decade. The minimum level of ice in 2011 was more than 50 percent below that of 2005.

All of this will have various consequences: longer ice-free summers are expected to open up the Arctic ocean to oil and mining, as well as more trade. IT also raises questions about Canada's sovereignty over the region.

A number of countries are staking a claim in the far north. Last week, an icebreaker from China made its first trip across the Arctic ocean.

On the flip side, the melting ice is of major concern to Inuit people: "Every one of the 56,000 Inuits in Greenland have had to adapt to the retreat of the ice," said Carl-Christian Olsen, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council in Nuuk, Greenland.

"The permafrost is melting and this is jeopardizing roads and buildings. The coastline is changing, there is more erosion and storms, and there are fewer mammals like polar bears."

There is also the environmental cost: if the ice doesn't reflect sunlight back into space anymore, the region may well heat up even more.

Scientists have also found that warm weather has caused melting across Greenland. Satellite imaging has found that since 2000, much of Greenland's ice sheet has been gradually getting darker - indicating a loss of ice.

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