Arctic ice levels hit historic low, researchers say
Melting ice is visible near Greenland's Ilulissat glacier, one of the areas seeing the effects of global warming in the Arctic.
September 12th, 2011
11:07 AM ET

Arctic ice levels hit historic low, researchers say

The amount of Arctic sea ice has melted to a historic low, with the area of land covered by ice at the smallest level since scientists began observing it with satellites in 1972, researchers from the University of Bremen in Germany report.

The North Pole skull cap shrank to about half a percent under the previous record low set in September 2007, according to the school's Institute of Environmental Physics.

Researchers, including those from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, had predicted earlier this summer that Arctic sea ice levels could reach extreme lows. But the University of Bremen physicists said there was uncertainty in July about whether the ice melt would surpass the previous record.

They said their studies indicated that continuing ice decline was related to man-made global warming.

"It seems to be clear that this is a further consequence of the man-made global warming with global consequences," researchers said in their report.  "Directly, the livehood of small animals, algae, fishes and mammals like polar bears and seals is more and more reduced."

Read the report (PDF)

As Arctic sea ice has continued to decline, it also has become drastically thinner overall, the report said.

The researchers said that previously the melting ice had been attributed to yearly weather anomalies. But now it is believed the massive melt is due in part to global warming and the increasing albedo effect, which has to do with the power of the surface to reflect sun. As more ice melts, instead of having white ice reflect more of the sun's rays, you have a larger amount of open water that absorbs those same rays. Therefore, warmer temperatures lead to even more ice melting.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center did not have updated data to confirm the German report but said it expected the historic low to be hit based on the past few weeks' data.  Its site is only up to date to September 6. The historic levels were reached two days later. The center said it would "make a preliminary announcement when ice extent has stopped declining and has increased for several days in a row" and said it would release monthly data for September early next month.

The large-scale thaw is cause for concern, according to Shaye Wolf, climate science director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

“This stunning loss of Arctic sea ice is yet another wake-up call that climate change is here now and is having devastating effects around the world,” Wolf said in a statement.

The receding ice is also opening up a war for oil resources.

The Climate Law Institute noted the record followed news that this summer was the second-hottest since 1895.

In 2009, studies began suggesting the Arctic Ocean could be "largely ice free" during summer within a decade.

One of those reports, complied by the UK-based Catlin Arctic Survey and the World Wildlife Fund, showed that researchers predicted that within 20 years ice cover will be completely gone during the warmer months.

soundoff (835 Responses)
  1. JK

    "shrank to about half a percent" Hello? Who writes this stuff?

    September 12, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • goblue

      shrankpast tense of shrink (Verb)
      1. Become or make smaller in size or amount; contract or cause to contract.
      2. (of clothes or material) Become smaller as a result of being immersed in water.

      September 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Monica

      Goblue, you completely missed it, didn't you... he hehehe..

      September 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • PoorDude

      "shrank to about half a percent under the previous record low set in September 2007" You have to read the whole sentence up to the comma, and then it makes sense.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • LetsGetReal

      The actual statement is "The North Pole skull cap shrank to about half a percent under the previous record low set in September 2007, ..." This makes since to me ... what's is your point? the snippet you posted is incomplete and does not make since on it's own.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Polis

    Of course global warming is man-made, the entire thing is a liberal farce. I have pictures of the Democratic national party on glaciers with hair dryers melting the ice caps. It's just a ploy to reduce the power of big oil, big contributors to the Republicans. It's a political ruse; the Republicans better get out there with ice cubes to keep the poles in tact.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheMovieFan

      Sending Republicans off to the poles does not sound like a bad idea.

      September 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      Let's also ignore the fact that the Antarctic ice is growing.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • LetsGetReal

      Scientist are not ignoring it ... please provide complete factual information next time you post: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16988-why-antarctic-ice-is-growing-despite-global-warming.html

      September 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      Take all thier clothing away.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Liberalator

    In general scientists are an ethical bunch. There is no conspiracy by climate scietists to promote the effects of global warming to gain more funding or the like. Too many Americans are questioning the data that science is reporting based on personnal ignorance and the belief that what theyc annot understand cannot be true. Unfortunately that is the same thinking that existed during the dark ages and supported the christian inquisition for 500 years.

    Personnaly I believe it is all the hot air coming out of Rick Perry's and Mitt Romey's mouths that is the real reason for gobal warming.

    Liberalator

    September 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • madgame

      If you read the report, there's nothing in it to indicate that the "minimum" is a direct result or consequence of man-made pollution. That statement is an opinion of the author, the report is simply a collection of observations of ice formations. No real science. It does not try to explain reasons for the melting. The ONLY conclusion you could draw from this report, is that the ice formations are decreasing. That's it.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Monica

      You're really very very witty, gosh I laughed so hard at the Perry/Romney comment, I'm still laughing, you are too much (of an idiot..).

      Global warming is what it is – the issue is whether it is man-made or a natural course and we can hardly do much about it. This planet has been going through ice ages and global warming-s long before we were here or when we lived in caves, later rode horses and used candles for light (why you think Greenland is called green-land? It used to be green. The Baltic Sea used to be ice, there were hotels and restaurants on it). Of course our presence here attributes to global warming – just the fact that we breath contributes to it. Some happen to believe it's on a considerably small scale – not a planetary system changing type of way.

      There are just as many scientists supporting this claim as they are opposing it, it just happens so that those who rely on gov't grants to continue working are not quite as reliable as those who have been so successful they don't need anyone dictating to them what their research should be. And, amazingly enough – truly amazingly – the non-government dependent ones seem to question the theory that if we stop driving SUVs and kill off all the cattle, global warming will subside and our planet will not perish tragically.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. David

    Good thing the Tea Party are not having any of their debates at the poles.. All that wasted hot air would surely melt the poles even faster.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Phil

    The earth is coming out of an ice age. I wonder what the cavemen were doing to cause this? Im sure Liberals will come up with something. Had to start somewhere.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • LetsGetReal

      Earth is warming ... this is a fact. How much is the human contribution is the only debate ... not whether or not we do ... most serious climate scientist disputes these statements.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • LetsGetReal

      *don't dispute"

      September 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      Phil

      The earth is coming out of an ice age. I wonder what the cavemen were doing to cause this? Im sure Liberals will come up with something. Had to start somewhere.

      Setting fire to hot air Republicans.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. banasy©

    God, Bob, who do you think Obama is? Mr. Freeze?

    September 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Fred Flinstone

    Too bad your not sitting atop that ice, your intellect could use a little thawing out.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brian Hartman

    I don't deny climate change. I don't even deny that much of it is probably anthrocentric. My main problem is that headlines like these measure the problem in rdiculous ways.

    "Arctic ice levels hit historic lows" sounds really horrifying, until you realize that the measurements have only been taken since 1972. That's less than 40 years compared to the 4-billion year-old earth, and the 200,000 year (at least) existence of humans. Does anyone seriously want to wager that the polar ice caps have never been lower, in all the years of human existence?

    Again, this is *not* to say that global warming isn't happening, or that humans don't have a hand in it. But scary-sounding statistics without any context aren't very meaningful.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan, TX

      I agree with you. It is pretty clear that burning fossil fuels is contributing to the warming and that there will be long-term consequences to this. The most dramatic effects are inconvenient in the next 100 years or so. Not as inconvenient as terrorism an earthquakes, but probably we would be better off planning that over the next 100 to 200 years we should move away from fossil fuels. I think most people see that it can be done over that time frame without being economically disruptive. This is a long term problem, we don't need a knee-jerk reaction. But we also don't need people declaring science as being an unreliable method for understanding things. Science is really important, scientists are very self-critical, and denigrating science for political purposes is vile.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. R. A. Parsons

    Someone better notify Rick Perry and most of the nutty right wing about this. Global Climate Change can't possibly be happening! I mean it is obviously a conspiracy of scientists who made all this up. The pictures of the polar ice melting is just another conspiracy! As someone with an environmental degree, it is frightening to think we could get some right wing crank who doesn't understand science. The idea that scientists are questioning this is nonsense. 99 % of scientists in the field accept the climate findings. There are a small few who are paid by the fossil fuel industry and of course they will be skeptical. Perry is a joke in every possible way but he is the perfect candidate for the Tea Party. He has never seen a rich person he doesn't like, never seen a corporation he would take money from and do their bidding, he is dumb as a rock (look at his college transcipt for evidence), and he loves to scapegoat anyone who is not a WASP.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      As a general rule, oil companies pay a helluva lot better than grant-funded research positions. You want to know who's full of BS on the science of climate change, follow the money.

      September 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. blue

    Hey CNN, you know what would be helpful? How about posting a graph of sea ice extent over time so we can SEE how much it shrunk by. Or better yet, how about posting a time lapse satellite video of how the ice has diminished.

    Both of these things exist and are much more compelling than a simple blurb and a pretty picture.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • VT_Citizen

      The former vice-president tried that. It didn't convince anyone that didn't already know the extent of the crises that faces us.

      September 12, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Alan K

    According to the DAILY ice graph on the NSIDC website (http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/), which is the first graph on the left, we have not reached an all-time minimum. Maybe we will in the next few days as the summer melt ends, however, for now, this story is false.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      Alan – In the article it says that the data at the NSIDC was last updated on September 6th and the German study concluded that the low was surpassed on September 8th. The next time they update their data, it should corroborate the German study.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan K

      The website says that there is a one-day lag on the graph. The ANALYSIS is dated September 6th, but the graph is updated daily with a one-day lag. The article is wrong. I am only stating what is on the website. Again, the graph is updated daily with a one-day lag and the analysis is dated September 6th. BTW, I would have replied directly to your post, but I didn't see a reply button. I only saw the Report abuse button.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. VT_Citizen

    Don't worry it's just science. Science is silly and anti-Jesus. Drill baby drill!

    September 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Why don't you give up your cell phones, computers, gaming consoles, all that. I'm sure Jesus would approve.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      @Laura How does giving up modern electronics enter into this conversation? Ok so they use electricity, but the source of that electricity does not have to be fossil fuels. Instead we could use solar, wind, or hydroelectric *gasp*. But if we were energy independent then we wouldn't need to occupy the middle east and big oil and defense companies (who make the 2 biggest campaign financiers) wouldn't make as much money.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      a duh. Obviously you've never been exposed to science. It's not just electricity that makes modern devices. There's plenty going on behind the scenes which obviously you don't know about. Jesus has nothing to do with it.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. gung hoe

    I am not a scientist But you young people wernt around back in the late 60s and 70s when the scientist was telling everybody we were all going to freeze to death That we was in a major freeze So judge for yourselves as to which scientist to liston too

    September 12, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike.C

      Gung Hoe, you are full of it has are all conservatives! I was around in those days and the only people claiming that we were going to freeze to death were non-scientist like you! It was do to a bad winter! It was the religious right who made some of the claims and that is due to their love of the destruction of mankind! People like you need counseling!

      September 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Wayne

    A key sentence was the second hottest summer since 1895. How much man made global warming was there in 1895. Im guessing not a lot. So how come 1895 was/is still the hottest on record? Maybe some lying scientist could come up with a doctored report or 2? Dont get me wrong, i believe in global warming but when the ones crying wolf doctor their reports to gain/curry more favor with the money men then i disregard them just like politicans. You liberal retards can ride bicycles and eat raw veggies and fruit. Me, im going to continue to destroy the earth.. its what i do...

    September 12, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gramma Millie

      I've got to hand it to Wayne. It's one thing to be simply ignorant. It's quite another thing to be ignorant and to be proud of it. His great-great-grandchildren might have to wear masks to breathe outside, but it's all good because Great Grandpa Wayne had fun driving monster trucks and Hummers.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      Already discussed in the comments but 1985 is not the hottest on record. The wording was a bit weird here but it should have said something like "Since detailed records began in 1895, 2010 was the second hottest year on record." The top 10 hottest years are 2005, 2010, 1998, 2003, 2002, 2006, 2009, 2007, 2004, 2001. How about you actually look at some of the data rather than get all of you info from a news source and then falsely quote it mmmkay?

      September 12, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      Dear Wayne,

      We just put you at the top of the list.
      Watch your back wayne.......
      Be very affraid..........

      BOO !!!!!!!

      September 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Concerned Scientist

    "area of land covered by ice..." ..North pole? Land mass?
    I want to know who you hire to write this junk, because I have some wonderful real estate to sell them.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
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