Greenpeace response to Arctic sea ice minimum announcement

Press release - 15 September, 2011
Fram Strait, Arctic Ocean, 15 September 2011 -- Responding to the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Center’s (NSDIC) preliminary announcement that the Arctic summer sea ice extent has plummeted to the second lowest level in recorded history (1), Frida Bengtsson, expedition leader on board the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, said:

“This is a clear signal of how climate change is causing the rapid shrinking of Arctic sea ice extent. It not only has grave implications for the polar bears and other wildlife that depend on the sea ice, but for the planet as a whole - an Arctic free of summer sea ice could destabilise global weather patterns”.

“While today’s sea ice news should send a mayday to world leaders, politicians and oil companies who helped to fuel the rise in global temperatures, are rushing to exploit newly uncovered areas of the Arctic Ocean – and stalling action on climate change in the meantime. We urgently need to reduce greenhouse gases and switch to renewable energy sources to give the planet a fighting chance,” continued Bengtsson.

Till Wagner, ice scientist from University of Cambridge’s Polar Ocean Physics Group, (2) speaking from the Arctic Sunrise at 80 degrees north said:

"What we can see is a staggering retreat in the ice. The speed and the scale at which the sea ice is diminishing cannot be explained by extreme weather conditions or similar theories. It is a direct consequence of global rising temperatures that lead to the heating up of the air and of the oceans.”

Today’s NSIDC’s announcement of concern because the previous record low, in 2007, was reached during a period of extreme local weather conditions where unusual temperatures, winds and currents combined to accelerate and increase ice melt.

The massive ice loss during this year’s less extreme conditions indicates that large parts of the ice pack are weak and thin and that Arctic sea ice is on a long-term decline.

The Greenpeace icebreaker vessel the Arctic Sunrise is currently in the Arctic Ocean, with scientists from the University of Cambridge’s Polar Ocean Physics Group who are conducting research into the thickness and volume of the sea ice.

Sea ice thickness is key to exposing the impact of climate change on the Arctic and overall stability of the ice cover, because older ice grows thicker over multiple seasons, while newly formed ice, which is replacing the old thick ice, tends to be thinner and more vulnerable to melting in the summer.

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.

Photo, video and interviews from the Greenpeace Arctic expedition are available;

Contact:

Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International Communications, +44 7717 802 891/

Greenpeace International 24-hour press desk: +31 20 718 2470 or

Lucy Campbell-Jackson, Greenpeace International Video Desk, tel: +31 634 738 790/

Alex Yallop, Greenpeace International Photo Desk, tel: +31 624 9419 65/

Notes to editors:

(1) NSIDC, 15 September 2011: “The blanket of sea ice that floats on the Arctic Ocean appears to have reached its lowest extent for the year. Arctic sea ice extent fell to 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles) on September 9, 2011. This year's minimum was the second lowest in the satellite record, which started in 1979. The lowest extent was recorded in 2007.”

http://nsidc.org/news/press/20110915_minimum.html

(2) Ice scientists Till Wagner and Nick Toberg from Professor Peter Wadhams’ team at the University of Cambridge are testing the sea ice from 2-24 September 2011. In an Arctic first, the scientists are working with professional 3D laser scanners from The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London to investigate systematically the thickness and volume of the rapidly shrinking sea ice. In addition to the scanners, they are using power drills, coring, aerial imagery, snow depth measurements and GPS readings, to establish the average thickness, and other properties of the sea ice at 10 different sites. The data they collect will be used to verify other information from satellites and improve the accuracy of computer models.