By Dan Shapley
Echoing numerous reports over the last few weeks, scientists from National Snow and Ice Data Center reported yesterday that the extent of Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest level ever recorded. With the Arctic winter setting in, the ice has reached its seasonal minimum and is regaining strength. But the unprecedented melt is seen as a clear harbinger of global warming. How much ice melted?
- So much melted that, comparing melt in an average year to this year, you could fit Alaska, and Texas -- the two largest U.S. states -- in the excess melt. Compared to average, an additional 1 million square miles of ice melted over the five-day mean at maximum low measured by scientists.
- So much ice melted that the last record -- set in 2005 -- was exceeded a full month before the ice melt season ended, and the one-day minimum ice day this year came four days later than is usual, and exceeded the last record by 461,000 square miles -- the size of Texas and California combined.
- So much melted that satellites showed the fabled Northwest Passage emerge for the first time in history along the Canadian coast, and a second passage was a hiccup away from forming along the Siberian coast.
- So much ice melted that Russia drove a submarine to the North Pole and planted a titanium flag there, staking an early claim to the disputed territory, and its potentially massive oil and natural gas reserves.
- So much that polar bears could lose 2/3 of their numbers by mid-century, as the snow and ice they rely on disappears.
- So much that the rate of melting far out-paces the predictions made by the world's top scientists in the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.
National Snow and Ice Data Center This figure compares the five-day mean sea ice extent on September 16, 2007, this year's apparent minimum, with minimum sea ice extent on September 20â21, 2005, the previous record low. The magenta line indicates the mean September extent based on data from 1979 to 2000. The apparent five-day 2007 minimum was 1.59 million square miles, compared to 2.05 million square miles in 2005.
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