In September 2007, this floating ice cap melted and shrank to the smallest it has ever been, shattering the previous record set in 2005. This record was subsequently broken again in 2012 when the ice cap shrunk to it’s smallest size every recorded.
The sea ice freezes and melts seasonally, but never like the 2012 melt in recorded history. When compared to the previous record melt in 2005, the melt in 2012 saw a further decrease in ice – around the size three Victoria’s (the state we mean, not the girl who sits behind you in your classroom).
Scientists had predicted that the Arctic could be totally ice-free by the northern summer of 2050. This has now been brought forward to 2020.
September ice extent from 1979 to 2012 shows a thirty-year decline. The September (the most melting month) sea ice decline since 1979 has increased to 11.7 percent decline per decade according to National Snow and Ice Data Center. This graph shows September ice extent from 1979 to 2012 showing a thirty-year decline – click image to enlarge.
The ice in the Arctic, like dad’s hair, has been getting thinner for many years. The problem with reduced ice in the Arctic is that less sunlight is reflected back into space. This melts more ice and exposes more and more ocean to the sun. This soaks up the sunlight, making the ocean warmer and melting more ice.
This melting has opened up the fabled North West Passage (the mystical route across the top of the globe from Europe to Asia) to shipping for the first time.
Are the nations surrounding this area horrified by a rapidly heating Arctic? Are they doing all they can to halt the melting? Are you kidding?
This unexpected ‘bonanza’ has kicked off a war of words between Canada, Russia and the US. They are arguing over who owns the rights to the North West Passage and who is going to exploit … wait for it … oil reserves held there.
The Russians, bless them, planted a flag on the sea floor and lodged a claimed the land. To which the Canadian foreign minister responded, ‘This isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world, just plant a flag and say, “We’re claiming this territory”.’
The race to claim the ‘Arctic El Dorado’ is well and truly on.