The only question on September's plate, when it comes to climate milestones, is whether the Arctic will settle for the second-greatest melt in history, or go ahead and overtake 2008 as the meltiest year on record.
Already, loss of sea ice has exceeded the extreme seen in 2005, which at the time was seen as a shocking sign of global warming. That record fell in 2007, by a long stretch. While melting has leveled off somewhat in the last week, there's still a chance that this summer's melt will exceed even that of 2007.
Now, scientists report that one of Canada's last Arctic ice shelves, a 19-square mile (Note: the size of the ice shelf has been corrected after original publication.) expanse of once rock-hard ice, has collapsed: "Markham Ice Shelf, one of just five remaining ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic, split away from Ellesmere Island in early August," Reuters reports. "They (the scientists) also said two large chunks totaling 47 square miles had broken off the nearby Serson Ice Shelf, reducing it in size by 60 percent."
National Snow and Ice Data Center
The US Geologic Survey announced this week that it will join forces with Canada to map the suddenly navigable region, in search of natural resources each can claim under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The U.S. will send one of its very small fleet of ice breakers on the joint mission with Canada, to study the geology off the subsea floor, which should reveal whether each country can make claims to territory (if it is geologically linked to its continental shelf) and whether there's any oil and gas down there worth drilling for.
The parallel bits of news are the latest in a long line of reports that show that global warming is having a real-time and permanent effect on the Arctic, and that some of the most fossil fuel-addicted nations are reacting less by curbing global warming emissions, and more by scrambling for new territory.
Russia is the leader in this particular category, having planted a titanium flag under water on the North Pole last year, in a stunt seen around the world as a meaningless bit of showmanship that actually meant a lot: It meant that Russia has the technological leg-up for exploration of the Arctic, and that it intends to use that advantage. (And that was before it over-ran Georgia, proving that it is not averse to expansion by military might, nor overly concerned with Western opinion.)
The U.S. is relying on its allies to explore the region, and it's a good thing we have those allies.
The two-ship experiment allows both the U.S. and Canada to collect and share complementary data in areas where data acquisition is costly, logistically difficult, and sometimes dangerous, said USGS scientist Deborah Hutchinson, who will sail aboard Louis. Both countries benefit through sharing of resources and data as well as increasing likelihood of success by utilizing two ice-breaker ships in these remote areas of the Arctic Ocean.
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