Chicago (IL) – Sea-ice coverage levels in the Arctic are approaching the record low of September 2007. Since the melting season has not reached its end yet, scientists of the European Space Agency are expecting to see a record low in 2008 and two passages being completely ice free by mid-September.
The trend of shrinking sea-ice coverage will continue this year, according to Heinrich Miller from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany. Analyzing data collected by the Envisat satellite between early June and mid-August 2008 showed that current ice coverage has already reached the second absolute minimum since observations from space began 30 years ago and a new record low could be achieved by mid-September, when the ice coverage is expected to be increasing again.
The scientists noted that an ice area the size of Europe melts away every summer reaching a minimum in September. Since satellites began surveying the Arctic in 1978, there has been a regular decrease in the area covered by ice in summer. The ice cover dropped to its lowest level on record in 2007 and opened up the most direct route through the Northwest Passage in September 2007.
The direct route through the Northwest Passage is currently almost free of ice, Miller said. The indirect route, called the Amundsen Northwest Passage, has been passable for almost a month. The scientists confirmed the satellite data by sending their ice breaking vessel “Polarstern” from Iceland to the Canadian Basin through the Northwest Passage this year.
ESA said it will provide more data and propose its Initiative on Climate Change to the ESA Member States at its Ministerial Conference in November 2008. The proposal aims to ensure delivery of appropriate information on climate variables derived from satellites, ESA said. In 2009, ESA will increase its research effort with the launch of CryoSat-2, which will be able to measure the rates at which ice thickness and cover is melting.
Scientists generally believe that the Arctic could be completely ice-free in the summer months by 2070. Recent research, however, suggests that the ice is melting at a much more rapid pace, resulting in an ice-free Arctic by 2040, Miller said.