Arctic sea ice reaches lowest extent in recorded history

Press release - September 20, 2012
Auckland September 20 2012: Scientists from the US Government’s National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) overnight released preliminary figures suggesting that Arctic sea ice has reached its lowest recorded extent since satellite records began to be kept in 1979. The data indicates that on September 16, the Arctic ice extent covered 3.41 million square kilometres - a drop of at least 45 per cent (on what is typical for this time of year) since records began (*).

The previous record low - set in 2007 - of 4.17 million square kilometres, was smashed in late August.

The Arctic is crucial to maintaining a stable global climate, as snow and ice reflects sunlight back into space, in so doing cooling the planet.    

Today Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo addressed a special event in New York alongside founder Bill McKibben to call for a coordinated international response to the Polar crisis. Responding to the news of the NSIDC’s announcement,  Naidoo said:

“Today's announcement represents a defining moment in human history. In just over 30 years we have altered the way our planet looks from space, and soon the North Pole may be completely ice free in summer.

“Rather than dealing with the root causes of climate change the current response from our leaders is to watch the ice melt and then divide up the spoils.

“I hope that future generations will mark this day as a turning point, when a new spirit of global cooperation emerged to tackle the huge challenges we face. We must work together to protect the Arctic from the effects of climate change and unchecked corporate greed. This is now the defining environmental battle of our era”

Dr Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the NSIDC, is currently aboard a Greenpeace ship in Svalbard, Norway, having just returned from conducting scientific research into the region’s record-breaking ice melt. She said:

“The loss of summer sea ice has led to unusual warming of the Arctic atmosphere, that in turn impacts weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, that can result in persistent extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves and flooding.”

Greenpeace is calling for the creation of a sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the North Pole and a ban on unsustainable industrial activity in the remainder of the Arctic.

Since June 2012 more than 1.8 million people have joined Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign (, and the group intends to place an ‘Arctic Scroll’ carrying these names on the seabed beneath the North Pole early next year as an act of opposition to corporate interest in the region.

Shell announced on Monday (NZ time) that it had abandoned its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic this year. But the company still plans to do some preliminary drilling, in anticipation of returning next year.   


New stills and video – including a news video release - taken from on board the Arctic Sunrise, are available from Greenpeace’s FTP server.

Username: media
Password: d15tr1but10n

For an interview with Greenpeace NZ Senior Climate Campaigner Simon Boxer, or with an NSIDC scientist on board the Arctic Sunrise, call Jay Harkness, Greenpeace Media and Communications, on 021 495 216.