Arctic could be free of summer sea ice by 2030

July 6, 2010

As the minimum area of summer Arctic sea-ice extent was today reported to have plummeted to the third-lowest level ever in recorded history [1], the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is hosting world-class sea ice expert Dr. Peter Wadhams, on a mission to conduct research into sea-ice loss in the Arctic Ocean, off the northeast coast of Greenland.

"We're entering a new epoch of sea ice melt in the Arctic Ocean due to climate change," said Dr. Peter Wadhams. "In five years' time most of the sea-ice could be gone in summer with just an 'Alamo of ice' remaining north of Ellesmere Island. In 20 years' time, that will also be gone, leaving the Arctic Ocean completely ice-free in summer. It's clear we can't rely on current models of prediction for sea-ice melt, as they have been constantly outpaced since the 1980s."

Wadhams, of the University of Cambridge, is leading a team of five independent scientists who plan to use buoys moored to pressured ice, ice cores and a number of other methods to calculate the melt rate of ridged ice, a feature that accounts for over half the volume of ice in the Arctic Ocean and which is disappearing fast as a consequence of climate change, in order to answer the question of why it is melting faster than non-ridged ice. The Arctic Sunrise will be working in the sea-ice of Fram Strait, between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, until the end of the month supporting Wadhams' sea ice research.

Sea-ice extent has been in decline for the last 30 years, but the speed of that decline has accelerated in the last decade and especially so in the last four years, outpacing scientific predictions. In 2007, the area of summer sea-ice extent reached a level that was not predicted to occur until 2080, with 2008 coming in a close second. While this year's low sea-ice extent did not surpass those of 2007 and 2008, it does suggest another significant acceleration of sea-ice melt in the Arctic Ocean.

"This puts U.S. policy on very thin ice," said Damon Moglen, Global Warming Campaign Director for Greenpeace in the U.S. "With global warming advancing even more quickly than expected, President Obama needs to lead a far more ambitious, science-based response to the climate crisis."

"Another record year of melting sea-ice makes for another deafening alarm about the state of the world's climate," said Melanie Duchin, Expedition Leader on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. "World leaders must heed this alarm and forge an agreement that takes bold, ambitious and decisive action at the upcoming climate summit in Copenhagen this December."

"What's needed is a 40 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 on the part of developed countries; they also need to invest $140 billion per year to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change, stop deforestation and switch to a low carbon economy. To do anything less is to ignore the warnings we're seeing in the Arctic and elsewhere that tell us that the climate is in serious peril."

VVPR info: Contact: Jane Kochersperger, Media Officer, Greenpeace U.S.A., + 1 202 319 2493 direct; + 1 202 680 3798 cell, Photo and video are available from: Photo Desk: Bob Meyers, Video Desk: Marcos Davalos,

Notes: [1] The sea ice minimum extent was announced by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). According to the NSIDC, “Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, the third-lowest extent since the start of satellite measurements in 1979. While this year’s minimum extent is above the record and near-record minimums of the last two years, it further reinforces the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent observed over the past thirty years.” For more: Contacts Professor Peter Wadhams, Head of Polar Ocean Physics Group, University of Cambridge (onboard) Melanie Duchin, Onboard Campaigner, Greenpeace U.S. based in Alaska (onboard) Kieran Mulvaney, Expedition Leader, Greenpeace International (onshore) Damon Moglen, Global Warming Campaign Director, U.S.A. Interviews with the ship can be conducted by satellite phone.

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