Latest satellite imagery shows Arctic teetering on thin ice

April 7th, 2009 - 3:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 7 (IANS) Latest satellite imagery shows that the Arctic is virtually teetering on a layer of thin ice, not to speak of its shrinking ice area over the decade.
Researchers from NASA and University of Colorado-Boulder (CUB), who have been tracking Arctic sea ice cover with satellites since 1979, found that the winter of 2008-09 was the fifth lowest maximum ice extent on record.

The six lowest maximum events in the satellite record have all occurred in the past six years, according to Walt Meier of National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) of CUB.

The new measurements by NSIDC show the maximum sea ice extent for 2008-09 on Feb 28 shrank to 5.85 million square miles, 278,000 square miles below the average extent for 1979 to 2000, an area slightly larger than Texas, said Meier.

Besides, CUB researchers led by Charles Fowler of the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research, has found that younger, thinner ice has replaced older, thicker ice as the dominant type over the past five years, making it more prone to summer melt, according to a CUB release.

“Ice extent is an important measure of the health of the Arctic, but it only gives us a two dimensional view of the ice cover,” said Meier.

“Thickness is important, especially in the winter, because it is the best overall indicator of the health of the ice cover. As the ice cover in the Arctic grows thinner, it becomes more vulnerable to summer melt,” he said.

Scientists believe Arctic sea ice functions like an air conditioner for the global climate system by naturally cooling air and water masses, playing a key role in ocean circulation and reflecting solar radiation back into space.

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