Arctic ice: big thaw on the way?

May 6, 2008

Tamara Rud, 70, fishes in the River Polui in the arctic city of Salekhard some 2000 km (1242 miles) northeast of Moscow November 25, 2007. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko (RUSSIA)It’s hard to imagine how big some of the cracks are on this link to satellite images of the Arctic ice during winter — dark lines hundreds of miles (km) long abruptly appear off the Canadian islands at the bottom right of the picture as the ice swirls through the winter.

At the top right, vast amounts of ice are flowing out of the Arctic basin southwards along the coast of Greenland.

“As of the middle of March, most of the basin, including the pole itself, appears to be covered only by seasonal ice,” it says. The image comes from Koji Shimada of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, via a link supplied by Thomas Homer Dixon, an environmental expert at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto.

The summer sea ice in the Arctic shrank to a record low extent in September 2007, outstripping the previous 2005 record, according to satellite observations since the 1970s. Dark water, once exposed, soaks up ever more heat than reflective ice and snow, accelerating the process. A less chill Arctic in turn would tend to heat the rest of the globe. British long distance swimmer Lewis Pugh trains in Cape Town, South Africa, in a small pool filled with chunks of ice to bring the water temperature down to below 1 degree celsius (34 F), December 1, 2005. Pugh , who braved the Arctic Ocean in August, now plans three long distance swims in the Antarctic, and hopes to become the first to accomplish such a feat in both of the world’s coldest seas. Picture taken December 1, 2005. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

And some researchers say that the Arctic ice may have reached a “tipping point” because of global warming and that it is destined to vanish in summers within decades — earlier than projected by the U.N. Climate Panel.

What do you think?


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Might I suggest you check the facts at the National Snow & Ice Data Centre: then “… ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

and note how the Antarctic sea ice anomaly has reached a maximum.

Not much global warming there!

Posted by Tim | Report as abusive

Tim, this article is about the Arctic; your comment is about the Antarctic. If the arctic releases massive amounts of freshwater into the world’s ocean and subsequently causes a myriad of problems, increases in the volume of Antarctic sea ice won’t be too much of a consolation.

Posted by scott | Report as abusive

And yet Antarctica is losing ice on land. It is gaining some in the middle, losing more on the edges. On balance, the continent is losing ice at a significant rate.

That suggests meaningful warming in the southern hemisphere.

Here’s something from NASA, published Jan. ’08:

Antarctic Ice Loss Speeds Up, Nearly Matches Greenland Loss

PASADENA, Calif. – Ice loss in Antarctica increased by 75 percent in the last 10 years due to a speed-up in the flow of its glaciers and is now nearly as great as that observed in Greenland, according to a new, comprehensive study by NASA and university scientists

here’s the link: s/antarctica-20080123.html

Posted by g | Report as abusive

Might I suggest you don’t know what you’re talking about? The article is about the sea ice in the Arctic, not the Antarctic. Perhaps I should ask my wife what’s for breakfast next time we discuss dinner? There is nothing happening in the Antarctic that is outside the expectations of global warming science. However, the events in the Arctic are far outside of expectations: sea ice 80% depleted. Summer extent far below the trend, and expected to go low again this year. Multi-year ice almost gone.

Posted by ccpo | Report as abusive

Tim: Antarctica, which is the continent sitting at the South Pole, is behaving as expected for a frozen 2km high polar continent completely surrounded by ocean. It is like a giant self-sustaining refrigerator with its own sphere of powerful influence all around it and is therefore going to take longer to show visible effects from global climate change.

The Arctic sea ice at the North Pole, on the other hand, consisting of sea-level ice resting on seawater, is more susceptible to “fast” heat transport from the warming air above and the warming water below.

In my opinion, self-sustaining destructive feedbacks (most prominently, the albedo feedback where the warmth of sunlight that used to be reflected by white ice is now absorbed into darker seawater) have been triggered. As a result, sea ice in the Arctic will collapse irreversibly and I suspect it can collapse faster than most experts expect it to.

Posted by George | Report as abusive

Maybe Tim is ironic, maybe he’s not, anyways I checked the facts, here’s a quote from nsidc:

“Taken together, an assessment of the available evidence, detailed below, points to another extreme September sea ice minimum. Could the North Pole be ice free this melt season? Given that this region is currently covered with first-year ice, that seems quite possible.”

I quess it’s plausible, when checking the facts.

Posted by Christian | Report as abusive

Tim … excellent idea to check out the NSIDC page. Here’s a quote from their most recent (May 5th) update on Arctic Sea Ice:

“Taken together, an assessment of the available evidence, detailed below, points to another extreme September sea ice minimum. Could the North Pole be ice free this melt season? Given that this region is currently covered with first-year ice, that seems quite possible.”

Global warming? Maybe. Arctic warming? Definitely. Anthropogenic? Who cares?

Posted by Ethan | Report as abusive

Agreed that the Arctic and the Antarctic are likely to react very differently — the U.N. Climate Panel said last year that the Antarctic ice sheet may get bigger overall this century even as the Arctic ice shrinks.
Warmer air can absorb more moisture from the oceans and this falls as snow where temperatures are well below freezing, like over Antarctica — a vast continent with ice in many places hundreds of metres thick; unlike the Arctic where a thin layer of ice floats on an ocean.
Try this link from the U.N. panel’s report last year:  /ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-chapter10.pdf
Table 10.7, page 820, shows that world sea levels are projected to rise by between 18 and 59 cms this century but that the Antarctic ice sheet in isolation may contribute to a sea level FALL of between 2 and 14 cms, sucking up moisture from the seas. (…the figures exclude risks of a quickening slide of ice sheets into the sea, saying they are too little understood).

So it seems the Arctic could be free of ice even as the penguins have to suffer through a few more snowstorms.

Posted by Alister Doyle | Report as abusive

scott: My reference was to the NSIDC which covers BOTH poles. I merely suggested you take a look at Antarctica too.

g: The SEA ICE anomaly around Antarctica is on an increasing trend and is currently at a 29 year maximum. The ice cap is also increasing in mass.

Sea ice of course does NOT affect sea level change.

ccpo: See above and check my link. The anomaly trend has reversed since last year’s record low. One year of course does not make a trend. However according to NASA, last year’s record loss was due to unusual weather patterns which essentially ‘blew’ the ice out of the Arctic.

george: You have an opinion. Well done!

christian, ethan: You seem to have got it about right.

Alister: See above re: last year’s unusual Arctic weather. And as the PDO and AMO (something the IPCC have largely neglected) seem to be headed south , my bet is on colder Arctic weather for some time to come. Of course the older sea ice which got blown away last year will take time to recover and meanwhile the newer ice is vulnerable.

Posted by Tim | Report as abusive

I find the claim that the “North Pole Could Be Ice Free in 2008″ to be very interesting. However, I am having difficulty finding a climate scientist who is willing to bet $1,000 that there will be less than 50,000 sq km of ice in the Arctic soon. Therefore, I am willing to give someone a $100 finders fee if they can find any climate modeler who is willing to bet with me that the Arctic sea will be ice-free by 2013. In fact, to make it more attractive, I am willing to bet that the extent of Arctic sea ice will not go lower than 50,000 sq km by the year 2013 (ice free does mean no ice, right?). 5.html

Posted by Dr. South | Report as abusive

Maybe you should remember that it is summer and ice has a habbit of melting under heat. check it out in your Kitchen, first take some ice out of your freezer and leave it at room temp, you will see it melt and I guarantee it

Posted by moronhunter | Report as abusive

Good stuff, Tim. Here’s more info on sea ice in the southern hemisphere:


And I see Tim has already alluded to the unusual wind patterns. Smart man.

As for the claim that, “A less chill Arctic in turn would tend to heat the rest of the globe,” maybe you guys haven’t gotten the memo. Unprecedented sea ice in the southern hemisphere, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has shifted into its cool phase, the current solar cycle is unusually inactive, oceans haven’t warmed in 5 years, and temperatures have been flat for the last 10.

It’s called “global cooling,” and it’s part of the earth’s natural cycle.

I wouldn’t bet against Dr South, myself.

Posted by AEGeneral | Report as abusive

I like your bet, Dr. South, your website clearly explains it…I will try to find someone to take you on.

I’m not a climate scientist but I wouldn’t personally risk $1,000 against you…50,000 sq km is pretty small compared to the 2005 minimum of 4.28 million sq kms…and the following link says that the ice has been shrinking at 72,000 sq km per year so even with a vastly accelerated melt it might take some time to get down to 50,000… inimum/20071001_pressrelease.html

Posted by Alister Doyle | Report as abusive

I think you are all insane if you believe that global warming is caused by humans. It’s not man made. It’s not like the earth hasn’t gotten way hotter and way cooler on it’s own before humans even existed.

Posted by Justin Bobby | Report as abusive

I find it typical with off the wall conclusions in the story. Caveats like “appears” “may have” “would tend”
according to “satellite observations” not one factual reference datum. This is constantly the means to use the environment for political purposes.
The TRUTH is that the western greenland Ice cap GREW in thickness per Demark’s Meterological Institute, Norways Mohn Sverdrup Center for Global Ocean studies says it’s grown 21 inches in thickness in the past 10 years. Even the left wing site Logical Science AGREES Greenlands Ice cap is GROWING, not shrinking as this report concludes.

So why is this psuedo scientific reporting even considered news worthy?

Posted by Radioman | Report as abusive

Dear Alister Doyle:

I hope you can find someone who will be willing to bet $1,000…

“Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss.”

“Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years.”

If 50,000 sq km does not qualify as “ice-free”…. I wonder if 100,000 or 200,000 sq km would qualify as “ice-free.” When the experts say “ice-free”, what do they really mean?

Posted by Dr. South | Report as abusive