Sep 21, 10:45 AM ET
Satellite images of
the Arctic show large openings in the perennial ice cover, yet another consequence
of greenhouse warming, scientists announced
The Arctic's thick perennial sea
ice typically survives the warmth of the summer and lasts through the
year. But satellite images taken in late August
show that up to 10 percent of the perennial sea ice has been fractured by summer storms. The surprising change involves an
area larger than the size of the British Isles. Hot Topic
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The striking openings
in the pack ice were found north of Svalbard, Norway and extend to
the Russian Arctic all the way to the North Pole. This condition is likely due to the thinning and extra mobility in
the European section of the central Arctic ice pack seen in recent years.
"This situation is
unlike anything observed in previous record low ice seasons," said Mark Drinkwater of the European Space Agency's Oceans/Ice
Unit. "It is highly imaginable that a ship could have passed from Spitzbergen or Northern Siberia through what is normally
pack ice to reach the North Pole without difficulty."
The minimum ice extent—the
lowest amount of ice recorded in the area annually—has shrunk from 3 million square miles in the early 1980's to less
than 2 million square miles in 2005. A recent study showed that between
2004 and 2005, the ice shrunk by 14 percent, a decrease in area the size of Texas.
"If this anomaly trend
continues, the North-East Passage or 'Northern Sea Route'between Europe and Asia will be open over longer intervals of time,
and it is conceivable we might see attempts at sailing around the world directly across the summer Arctic Ocean within the
next 10-20 years," Drinkwater said.
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