Ice-free Arctic could bring benefits, climate scientist says
The bright lines on the map show the median extent of Arctic sea ice every July since 1979; white areas show coverage last month. Alaska is at upper left, Greenland at lower center, Europe at right.
August 5th, 2011
02:30 PM ET

Ice-free Arctic could bring benefits, climate scientist says

The Arctic will be practically ice-free during the summer within three decades, the top U.S. ice observer says. But climate change could bring some good with the bad, he adds.

"I'm a climate scientist, but I'm also a realist on this," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Arctic sea ice is disappearing a little more each summer. It shrank in July to the least coverage that satellites have ever recorded for that month, measurements show.

"This is just part and parcel of the decline that we've seen in the overall ice extent because the Arctic is warming up," Serreze said.

Average ice extent was 3.06 million square miles, 81,000 square miles below the previous record low (2007) and 842,000 square miles below average, according the data center. The center operates out of the University of Colorado at Boulder with support from NASA.

Satellite records date to 1979, but observations by ship and plane go back to the 1950s, Serreze said. July's ice coverage "is certainly the lowest in oh, the last 50 or 60 years that we have reliable records for," he said.

The oldest ice in the Arctic, which tends to be the thickest and most resistant to melting, is declining, data center scientists said.

The overall ice coverage declined rapidly in the first half of July but slowed in the second half as weather patterns changed, Serreze said. Now they seem to be changing back again. By the time the melting season ends in September, the ice coverage could be among the lowest three or four ever, he said.

"The Arctic is the heat sink of the Northern Hemisphere," Serreze said. "The ice cover is highly reflective. If you lose that ice cover, you change the heat budget of the Arctic."

That changed budget is likely to affect weather patterns below the Arctic, and ultimately the overall climate, he said.

"This is man-made; there seems to be little doubt in that," Serreze said. "It would be reversible if we were to do something about our carbon dioxide emissions, (but) I don't see much of a fat chance in hell we're going to see any change here. We're going to have to adapt."

Climate change will have some serious consequences, Serreze acknowledged: rising sea levels, loss of habitat for Arctic fauna, drinking water shortages, territorial disputes over newly open waters and more. But there will be some real benefits, he said.

Warmer winters and springs will extend growing seasons and even allow farming to happen in places where it hadn't before, Serreze said.

Another benefit of the retreating ice is increased navigation. A tanker set sail from Murmansk, Russia, on June 29 and completed a crossing of the Kara and Barents seas on July 14, according to the data center. The same company plans to send six or seven more ships along the same route this summer.

"We will adapt, because we have to," Serreze said.

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Filed under: Climate change • Environment
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. michaelfury

    http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/between-us-and-the-enveloping-darkness/

    August 5, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  2. yada

    There goes the neighborhood!

    August 5, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Matthew

      Global warming is so overblown by everybody, scientist continue to promote to get more funding. Governments love the idea because it gives them greater control and more tax revenue. Liberals love it because it creates another excuse to take your money. Al Gore loves it because.. he loves money and meat. Really? is it going to make a difference if the polar bears die out which is highly unlikely considering there population has doubled over the past 25 years. We still have plenty of normal bears.

      August 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RUFFNUTT

    cause it's so darn hot..... mostly it's cause of the canadians and all their beer fridges...

    August 5, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. Not That Old

    Dear fernace: I'm wondering how old are you. To say that you are a born again vrgn you must be very old. Or maybe you are not that old and had a terrible love life. If what you say is true about being nice, it will be a waste to see you alone or not experiencing a nice relation with someone.

    August 5, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  5. rox731

    This does not come to any surprise to me. I did however not know it was this bad.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • PJB

      Read historical accounts by arctic explorers and travelers and fishermen and sealers and you will see that it has been much worse and much better in the past 400 years. Depends on what you consider better or worse but the coverage of arctic ice goes up and down with the various climate cycles of the oceanic currents and solar cycles. Do not be duped by the alarmists and their rhetoric. Look to the facts and you will see what is actually going on.

      August 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ms. Banasy

    Ah, Michael Fury.
    Ass hole to the spam god.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dill Weed

      Exactly what I was thinking.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bull Halsey

    Global warming is such a farce.

    August 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      Um .. no , your birth was a farce .

      August 5, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. WOT

    Some people will never understand, even when it in the looking glass and it is themselves they are observing !

    August 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Well......

    ___________________________________________________I don't think that global warming is a farce, but I doubt that it is man-caused. Records show that there are warming and cooling cycles. Nor do I believe that the oceans will rise more than a few feet.2-4. It may mean hotter summers and colder winters, I don't know. _____________________________________

    August 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian Dodge

      What do you think happens to all the CO2 we emit into the atmosphere? Why is the earth warmer than Planck radiation budgets would cause? The records that show warming and cooling cycles over the last 400,000 years show that we should be slowly cooling, but we are rapidly warming – what do you think caused the change, and what do you think is the "natural" source? Why do you think that all the measurements and science show anthropogenic global warming is such an established fact that ALL national academies of science, every professional scientific body, including the American Association of Petroleum Geologists have agreed, but you know something different?

      August 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Well......

    ________________________________________________________________________@ Not that old: Are you sure you are on the right page? Just how old are you anyway? Oh! I know you are just wanting attention. Now are you satisfied? __________________________________________ ________________________________________

    August 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. fernace

    @ Not that Old, thanks for worrying about me, me &my lovelife are good, thanks! The Born-Again-Virgin thing was a joke, sorry you didn't get it! I'm here to discuss stuff going on in the world, not my private life! Hasta!

    August 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. fernace

    The ozone layer has been depleted at a steady rate! When the ozone hole was discovered inthe 70's, scientists went to work to figure out what had made the hole! As any1 who follows the news knows, it was determined to be man-made! I get that it feels safer to deny that we have anything to do with climate changes, it's just a natural occurence! But if we have changed the earths surface with asphalt, concrete, roads, cities, man made lakes & dams & mountains of waste, garbage & trash, it's not likely that we haven't changed our atmosphere to the point of global warming! History has recorded events such as cataclysmic volcano eruptions that changed weather patterns, due to pyroclastic ashflow blocking the sun for months! A steady flow of carbon emissions for 100 years is going to cause some sort of effect & damage! It's only a logical conclusion! We can guess & put forth our thoughts, but scientists are educated in figuring out this kind of stuff, so I'm more apt to believe their explanations!!

    August 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Science

    Its the only job you can guess and not have to be right in order to keep your job. Would you listen to someone that had 90% of their thoughts and ideas proven wrong? Well.... I guess most people would.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mark

    NO we won't be able to farm in areas we can't now, not for years, maybe centuries, because those areas don't have good soil, because it hasnt rained there and is most lilkely very sandy. Now where we already farm but shouldn't, like California's southern desert, we may be able to do better, but we will need to start building storage facilities (lakes and reservoirs). However with our change resistant republican party, we can't get anything done.

    We're screwed.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Mark, what exactly do you mean "Now where we already farm but shouldn't, like California's southern desert" ? Are you speaking of the Imperial Valley? Or somewhere else? I know hard working familiies that have farmed their for almost a century, so I'd be curious to hear your reasoning.

      August 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. sherriw

    Accept the truth-It is Man made, but no worries cause we all have to adjust. Right!

    August 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
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