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. Matthew

    if the weather man can't predict the weather a month out what make you think they can possibly provide accurate charts of data on global warming, it may be a good theory, but its nowhere near as absolute as the law of gravity.

    August 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      For starters, climate is not weather, mixing them up is just ignorant. Second, the case for Global Warming is based on observations of the PAST. The idea is to look at the trends over the past 100 years and model what might happen if they continue. AS for GW deniers, just for a minute consider that humans have, through burning fossil fuels, released CO2 that was stored in those deposits over hundreds of millions of years. Is it any surprise that this is having an impact on the climate?

      August 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sharp

      Partisan claptrap. Go back to your trailer park & leave the thinking to us big boys & girls.

      August 5, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. leeintulsa

    @matthew: It's simple math, really. You know cars put out dangerous gasses, right? Gasses that would not be there if we hadn't put them there. Some of them completely man-made.

    Where do you think these gasses go? I've heard air disperses so quickly and completely, that in every breath you take are particles breathed by genghis khan and hitler.

    These toxic gasses have been building up in the atmosphere as long as cars have been in existence. The air all over the world has a different quality than it did before man. Is that not obvious?

    Different gasses have different qualities. Simple chemistry, right? They affect anything trying to penetrate the atmosphere. It's the ozone layer, where i believe all these gasses that are lighter than air congregate.

    Some of the naturally occuring ones are good – they keep the sun from killing us all. Others keep the heat we get from the sun and the heat we create from dissipating into space. Simple earth science, right?

    Any tampering with that system on our part will change how the system works.

    How can anyone who graduated 6th grade not support the notion that we affect our environment? SURE, it might happen anyway over time. You can honestly imagine that man's actions haven't sped things up a bit?

    August 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Allen

      Dude, cars put out carbon MONoxide, not carbon DIoxide. bad yes, but not on the list. Your ice hugging needs a little work.

      August 5, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      Lol.. Ice hugging..

      August 5, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • patg

      "Dude, cars put out carbon MONoxide, not carbon DIoxide"

      Dude, you should really know what you are posting about before you type. All fuel burns to produce carbon dioxide. Incomplete burning produces carbon monoxide. CO2 production is far larger than the CO production in any properly operating motor vehicle.

      August 6, 2011 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
  3. gumby

    Through mankind's progress we are over populating the world and destroying the earth by clearing trees for our concrete buildings. Soon there won't be enough greenery on the earth to help with the oxygen we need to breath.

    August 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tom

    I agree Matthew. In addition that they're apparently using ancient data that dates back all the way to the 1950's. WOW, that ought to give them some real historical data....jeez

    August 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @tom: How about data from today? Did you see cars being driven?

      I'm trying to keep this as simple as possible – clearly you both have limitations. Cars are just one of several ways we pollute our air..

      August 5, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. gumby

    Through mankind's progress we are over populating the world and destroying the earth by clearing trees for our concrete buildings. Soon there won't be enough greenery on the earth to help with the oxygen we need to breathe.

    August 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. gung hoe

    There is no doubt we have changed the climate in my mind i operate a roofing company in michigan but have worked all over the USA If you have doubt try taking a thermometer and place it on your roof and another on the ground and compare the difference in temperature during the middle of the day

    August 5, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Magnet59

    Nothing new with this story. Al Gore told us this several years ago. Lets move on please.

    August 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mmmmm

    Not buyin' it...freaky as gore's campfire stories.

    August 5, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Allen

    Mashnich and Bashkirtsev will get their ten grand. The MET in england predicted warm winters three years straight based on co2 emissions. Piers Corbyn predicted not only a cold winter but the coldest on record. Guess who got that one right? It's the big yellow thing in the sky ice huggers.

    August 5, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. leeintulsa

    Never heard of this MET.. I actually expect both extreme seasons, summer and winter, to be more extreme.. Like what's happening. I try to base my opinions on what i see. Not on what other's say..

    August 5, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. odraft

    One good forest fire puts out more CO2 than a year’s worth of all the cars in the US. One good volcanic eruption puts more CO2 out than all the cars in the world for a couple of years. GW may be happening but it is a natural event that the earth has continually gone through. We only know the weather for the last 60 years relatively well and suspect data for the last 1000 or so. But seriously folks, unless you believe the world was created 6000 years ago, there is an awful lot we don't know. Quit being a human hater and adapt like the earth has always done or make like the dinosaur.

    August 6, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Amen & well put!

      August 6, 2011 at 3:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Turboblocke

      Odraft: why are you comparing forest fires and volcanoes to US car emissions only? There's more to the world than the USA and it's not only cars that produce CO2. Sounds like you're using a straw man.

      August 10, 2011 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      Turboblocke: Typical argument of a believer, no real response. First of all the term Straw Man is not applicable in the sense you use it here. Since automobiles do in fact produce CO2 and are a constant reference in any global warming propaganda that SUV “BAD” Prius “GOOD” or better yet no cars at all and use mass public transit. What I have stated here in fact is a qualifier or a comparator specifically for those unable to grasp the magnitude of Nature v. Mans impact to the environment. Yes there are many different types of CO2 emitters i.e. Humans. But automobiles have become a poster child for the neo-religio you’re preaching about.

      August 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ajd041

    @ science meteorologists get paid to be 50% accurate

    August 6, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  13. Pat

    The Long-Term Solution? Go geothermal.
    Dig an “Energy Shaft” as deep as the mines in South Africa.
    [@ 2.4 miles down it's 140 degrees F.]
    Drift (a Tunnel) sideways a hundred (plus) feet.
    Dig a 'mini-shaft' upward high enough to accommodate a drilling rig.
    Drill down at least 7200 additional feet to attain the boiling point of water,
    [2120 F-140 0F=72(10 F increase in temperature/ each additional 100ft in depth)].
    Insert boiler tube that's looped at the bottom.
    Connect boiler tubes to manifolds, & the manifolds to turbines to generate electricity.
    Repeat as necessary... thousands of times.
    An extensive grid-work of tunnels can be dug around each main shaft system.
    a)You can do this (in situ) anywhere you need it, just about anywhere in the world.
    b)3rd World countries (India, China,...) would have no problem doing it.
    c)It's all relatively simplistic, proven, Off-the-shelf, technology.
    d)It Eliminates additional coal-fired, green-house gas emissions as these countries industrialize.

    You can put it right 'under' the cities (factories) that use the electricity.
    A)Fewer/No transmission costs-risks-losses
    Expensive? What's an 'eternal' supply of free energy worth – Priceless!
    A) What do the alternatives cost?
    a)Don't forget to calculate all concomitant environmental costs associated with each alternative (acid rain, mercury poisoned lakes, millions of tonnes of toxic-waste coal slurry, decapitated mountains, toxic tailings-clogged streams.
    Too Much Effort?
    A) How much effort & expense to build a Nuke &/or Coal Plant?
    1)And you don't even have to dig all those millions of tons of coal to fire the plant.
    A)And all the effort of trying to of get rid of all that resultant toxic coal ash.
    B) Think of it as a National-Defense Interstate-Freeway sort of thing.
    1)Any Patriot would welcome having a bomb-proof, supply-line-cut-off-proof (no oil lines or refineries to be bombed, no tankers to be torpedoed, in time of war), source of energy.
    As soon as we start investing in Geo-thermal the sooner we can be energy independent.
    1)It's a lot better than contracting Pneumonia every time Saudi Arabia (OPEC) catches a chill, or, gets wild hare.

    The reason to dig energy shafts is that we don't have to drill down so far into the rock for each additional energy well. The original is a sunk cost that keeps on paying dividends forever. Once you dig a central shaft, it's easier to dig (smaller) shafts along side the first shaft. The other shafts can be used for ventilation, cooling. power, compressed air, safety, tailings removal, etc..

    August 6, 2011 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. Eastvillage

    Maybe we've been through this before, from the BBC:

    August 6, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. Mark

    No ice would make oil exploration/extraction much more easier/cheaper. Time to invest in oil companies!
    "A 2008 United States Geological Survey estimates that areas north of the Arctic Circle have 90 billion barrels of undiscovered"
    As the planet is already screwed because of human parasites, you may as well get rich and be the last person to TURN OUT THE LIGHTS

    August 6, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
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