Monday, August 10, 2009

Arctic Ice Vanishes in State-Sized Chunks

During July of this year, a patch of the Arctic ice cap the size of Indiana melted every day, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. That's a rate of shrinkage equal to 2007, when the ice cap retreated to the smallest size ever recorded. In Canada's Arctic Sea outpost of Tuktoyaktuk (which should be familiar to viewers of History's Ice Road Truckers), the edge of the ice pack is now 80 miles away from the coast, double the summertime distance from a few decades ago, and the water is so warm (that being a relative term of course), that kids have gone swimming in the ocean this summer.

Scientists said that while global temperatures, on average, have risen by a degree during the past century, that rate of increase has been double in the Arctic. They are also seeing the thick, permanent ice of the cap being replaced by a thinner ice sheet that melts each summer before refreezing as winter sets in. What this will mean to the environment in the long-term remains to be seen, but it's affect on polar bears is already becoming evident (they're getting thinner and having to spend more time swimming to get to the ice packs that they use for hunting seals).

Meanwhile on the other side of the globe a Russian-Swedish expedition is setting off from the Russian port of Murmansk on a cruise of the North East Passage around Russia's northern coastline to highlight the effects of global warming on that part of the world. Normally portions of the Passage are only open for about eight weeks a year, but this year - thanks to the retreat of the ice pack - the crew of the sailboat "Explorer of Sweden" expect to be able to sail through passages usually sealed off by ice.
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