Summers could be ice free in a decade, explorers' findings indicate
LONDON - The North Pole will turn into an open sea during summer within a decade, according to data released by a team of explorers who trekked through the Arctic for three months.
The Catlin Arctic Survey team, led by explorer Pen Hadow, measured the thickness of the ice as it sledged and hiked through the northern part of the Beaufort Sea in the north Pole earlier this year during a research project.
Their findings show that most of the ice in the region is first-year ice that is only around six-feet deep and will melt next summer. The region has traditionally contained, thicker multiyear ice that does not melt as rapidly.
"With a larger part of the region now first-year ice, it is clearly more vulnerable," said Professor Peter Wadhams, part of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge which analyzed the data. "The area is now more likely to become open water each summer, bringing forward the potential date when the summer sea ice will be completely gone."
Wadhams said the Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within 20 years, and that much of the decrease will happen within 10 years.
Martin Sommerkorn of the World Wildlife Fund said the Arctic sea holds a central position in the earth's climate system. "Such a loss of Arctic sea ice cover has recently been assessed to set in motion powerful climate feedbacks which will have an impact far beyond the Arctic itself," he said.
He added: "This could lead to flooding affecting one-quarter of the world's population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions from massive carbon pools and extreme global weather changes."
Global warming has raised the stakes in the scramble for sovereignty in the Arctic because shrinking polar ice could someday open resource development and new shipping lanes. The rapid melting of ice has raised speculation that the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans could one day become a regular shipping lane.
The results come as negotiators prepare to meet in Copenhagen in December to draft a global climate pact.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
CNN.com, Oct. 15, 2009 -- New data released Thursday suggests that the Arctic Ocean will be "largely ice free" during summer within a decade.
The report, complied by the UK-based Catlin Arctic Survey and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is the latest research into ice thickness in the Arctic.
Researchers predict that within 20 years ice cover will be completely gone during the warmer months.
The expedition, which was completed in May, was led by UK explorer Pen Hadow.
He and his team collected data by manually drilling into the ice and noting its thickness along a 450-kilometer route across the northern part of the Beaufort Sea.
They found that the area surveyed was comprised almost exclusively of first year ice.
Scientists think this is significant because traditionally the region has been made up of much older, thicker ice.
"Our on-the-ice techniques are helping scientists to understand better what is going on in our fragile eco-system," Hadow said.
Measurements taken by Hadow and his team report that the ice-floes were on average 1.8 meters thick -- which, according to scientists, is too thin to survive next summer's ice melt.
Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the UK's University of Cambridge said: "With a large part of the region now first year ice, it is clearly more vulnerable. The area is now more likely to become open water each summer, bringing forward the potential date when the summer sea ice will be completely gone."
Professor Wadhams, who has analyzed the expedition data, added: "The Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus view that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years, and much of that decrease will be happening within 10 years."
Martin Sommerkorn from the WWF International Arctic Program believes that the changes in sea-ice cover in the region are likely to increase global temperatures further.
"Such a loss of Arctic sea ice has recently been assessed to set in motion powerful climate feedbacks which will have an impact far beyond the Arctic itself," Sommerkorn said.
"Arctic sea ice holds a central position in our Earth's climate system. Take it out of the equation and we are left with a dramatically warmer world."
Arctic to be 'ice-free in summer'
BBCnews.com, Oct. 15, 2009
The Arctic Ocean could be largely ice-free and open to shipping during the summer in as little as ten years' time, a top polar specialist has said.
"It's like man is taking the lid off the northern part of the planet," said Professor Peter Wadhams, from the University of Cambridge.
Professor Wadhams has been studying the Arctic ice since the 1960s.
He was speaking in central London at the launch of the findings of the Catlin Arctic Survey.
The expedition trekked across 435km of ice earlier this year.
Led by explorer Pen Hadow, the team's measurements found that the ice-floes were on average 1.8m thick - typical of so-called "first year" ice formed during the past winter and most vulnerable to melting.
The survey route - to the north of Canada - had been expected to cross areas of older "multi-year" ice which is thicker and more resilient.
When the ridges of ice between floes are included, the expedition found an average thickness of 4.8m.
Professor Wadhams said: "The Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus view - based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition - that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years, and that much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years.
"That means you'll be able to treat the Arctic as if it were essentially an open sea in the summer and have transport across the Arctic Ocean."
According to Professor Wadhams, faster shipping and easier access to oil and gas reserves were among short-term benefits of the melting.
But in the longer-term, losing a permanent feature of the planet risked accelerated warming, changing patterns of circulation in the oceans and atmosphere, and having unknown effects on ecosystems through the acidification of waters.
Pen Hadow and his companions Ann Daniels and Martin Hartley endured ferocious weather - including a wind chill of minus 70 - delayed resupply flights and starvation rations during the expedition from 1 March to 7 May.
When I met them on the ice, as part of a BBC team that joined the pick-up flight, all three had lost weight and were evidently tired from the ordeal.
The expedition had been blighted by equipment failures. A pioneering radar system, designed to measure the ice while being dragged over the ice, broke down within days. Another device to measure the water beneath the ice never functioned at all.
A planet transformed
The technical breakdowns forced the team to rely on hand-drilling through the ice which slowed progress and meant the team's planned destination of the North Pole had to be abandoned.
Pen Hadow admitted that the expedition had not led to "a giant leap forward in understanding" but had been useful as an incremental step in the science of answering the key questions about the Arctic.
His view was backed by Professor Wadhams who said the expedition had provided information about the ice that was not available from satellites and that no submarines had been available to science at that time either.
Pen Hadow said he was shocked by the image of how "in my lifetime we're looking at changing how the planet looks from space."
He also described how polar explorers were having to change their methods from the days when sledges could be pulled by dogs over the ice.
"Dogs can swim but they can't tow a sledge through water which is what's needed now."
"Now we have to wear immersion suits and swim and we need sledges that can float. I can foresee needing sledges that are more like canoes that you also pull over the ice."
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