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News : Innovation Last Updated: Sep 23, 2013 - 10:22 AM

Arctic sea summer ice set to almost vanish in up to 40 years
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Sep 20, 2013 - 8:15 AM

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The Arctic’s summer sea ice is set to nearly vanish in less than 40 years, according to the final draft of a UN climate change report that sharply revises previous past estimates of how fast the polar region is melting. However, this year's melt has been less extensive than recent years but is still the sixth highest on record.

The Scientific American says the news of a slower melt prompted the UK-based tabloid Daily Mail to proclaim the "return of the ice cap" in a September headline, a statement echoed by Rush Limbaugh, the conservative US radio host  and others.

However, this year's ice cover remains far below the 1981-2010 average, indicating an ongoing, long-term decline of ice because of warming temperatures, according to scientists.

“A nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely,” says the draft seen by the Financial Times of the first large-scale study in six years by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)  said this week that Arctic sea ice extent as of September 16, 2013 was 5.10m square kilometers (2.00m square miles). "This is substantially more ice than observed on the same date last year, yet sea ice extent remains quite low compared to the long-term 1981 to 2010 average. As is typical for this time of year, winds or currents can compact or spread apart the ice, resulting in small daily fluctuations of the ice cover."

The NSIDC said that during the first two weeks of September, sea ice extent continued to decline in the East Siberian, Laptev, and Kara seas while staying essentially constant in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas since the beginning of September. The Northwest Passage has seen more extensive ice this summer since 2007 and is not open. On the Eurasian side of the Arctic, the Northern Sea Route appears to have opened up briefly in September.

As a whole, air temperatures this summer have been below average over most of the central Arctic Ocean and Greenland, helping to slow down ice melting. Compared to the 1981 to 2010 average, air temperatures at the 925 hPa level have been -0.5 to -2.0 degrees Celsius (-0.9 to -3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) below average over central Greenland, north of Greenland and towards the pole, and over the Canadian Archipelago. The NSIDC says that unusually low temperatures are also noted over the East Siberian Sea, where ice cover has remained near average throughout the summer.

The New York Times reported last Sunday that Russia on Saturday announced an initiative to address climate change. But it had nothing to do with smokestacks.

Russia’s military said it planned to sail regular naval patrols along shipping lanes in its territory in the Arctic Ocean that opened to commercial vessels only in the last few years, as Arctic ice began melting at a record pace.

The Times said the Ministry of Defense announced the move after a flotilla led by the flagship of the Russian Northern Fleet — the Pyotr Velikiy, or Peter the Great — completed a trip across the Arctic Ocean last week to great fanfare at home, where the news media presented the voyage as an example of Russia’s proud naval heritage.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said last week that acidification of the Arctic Ocean is occurring faster than projected according to new findings published in the journal PLOS ONE. The increase in rate is being blamed on rapidly melting sea ice, a process that may have important consequences for health of the Arctic ecosystem.

Ocean acidification is the process by which pH levels of seawater decrease due to greater amounts of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the oceans from the atmosphere. Currently oceans absorb about one-fourth of the greenhouse gas. Lower pH levels make water more acidic and lab studies have shown that more acidic water decrease calcification rates in many calcifying organisms, reducing their ability to build shells or skeletons. These changes, in species ranging from corals to shrimp, have the potential to impact species up and down the food web.

The USGS said in a world petroleum assessment from 2000 estimated that 25% of the remaining recoverable undiscovered oil and gas resources in the world were located in the Arctic region. Although these figures proved inaccurate and were subsequently revised downward, e.g. in the 2008 Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal, the assessment was sufficient to brand the Arctic region as a “new energy province.”

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