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. TJ

    I will believe global warming caused by man is occuring once a scientist (any scientist) can fully explain the total "Water Cycle". No one on earth has ever given a full explanation of the water cycle because they can't, so when anyone contends, like Al Gore, that global warming is even occuring and that the debate is over is really pretty stupid. That's like saying the flourescent lamps are good for the environment yet they contain heavy metals. You liberals are mostly all alike, just like lemmings.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • awasis

      Republicans are alike in that anything that affects profit is opposed and done away with if possible, no matter what the general harm to society is.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Huh? The idea with the light bulbs is that they last longer and use energy more efficiently, not that they are perfect – just better than incandescents.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harvey

      Whether you believe global warming is real or not; it doesn't take a scientist to see what we are doing to the environment. Take a walk down any beach and look at all the trash washed up on shore. Look at all the lakes and rivers that have been polluted beyond belief by agricultural runoff. None of this bode well.

      At least you can do what you can to keep the problem from getting worse. Plan your driving to accomplish as much as possible in one trip; turn off appliances when unused, etc. Even if you don't give a damn about saving the environment; you will save money.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • jersvette

      I guess you contend that only liberals believe in Global Warming. Your true colors came out in your last sentence. It is not a political agenda issue. Unfortunately, some like you want to make it one. I wonder if you have children because if you do one day you will realize the world that you had is not the same as the one you are leaving for them regardless of your political affiliation.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChrisH

      @TJ: You're ignorance is funny. When this planet first formed, the atmosphere was mostly Carbon Dioxide & Water Vapor. Over the course of millions of years, the few life forms (mostly bacteria) that inhabited this earth broke down most of the CO2 into the O2 we use today. Do you honestly think us humans can't reverse that process with all of our machines today?

      September 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Runandtellthat

      Best way to save the planet is to kill yourselves

      September 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • I agree

      They also can't explain why record highs and lows that we're breaking are from around 1901 and prior to the industrial revolution. They don't consider that a far more logical reason is that the earth's orbit and tilt on its axis may vary enough from year to year to cause the temperature deviations. Nope.... these people jump right on the bandwagon built by the very people they hate....the rich who are counting on people just like them to rally behind their false science and create fortunes for them in terms of carbon futures, etc. These are the very people who think the melting ice is making the ocean rise, yet have never had the ice in their glass of lemonade melt and cause the glass to overflow. Give me a break.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark

      Harvey – "Take a walk down any beach and look at all the trash washed up on shore. Look at all the lakes and rivers that have been polluted beyond belief by agricultural runoff." That is not a true statement. There are many clean beaches. I doubt you have traveled. Agricultural runoff???? This is not the 60's. Farmers and their suppliers are very responsible now. Your statements are too absolute.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • @Harvey

      They change regulations over time to improve the environment. However, don't try to dictate how I live my life. That's the problem with the tree huggers and people like you. You do realize if the world were run the way you wish, we wouldn't have things like gasoline, cures for cancers, food to feed the world, or any of the other modern conveniences you apparently hate. While you're at it, turn off that computer. The heat that it puts out contributes to global warming. Right? Or are you hypocritical and mean we should only be responsible as long as it doesn't affect YOU?

      September 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff S

      Actually we have these things called thermometers that display temperature. And for at least the last century and even a little beyond that people have been recording temperatures from all over the world. It doesn't take a genius to take that data to come up with an average global temperature and then compare to previous averages. From that comparison one could then infer whether the global temp was increasing or decreasing. What we have seen in the last 100 years is that temp has been rising little by little. You will find few scientists that will argue against the idea that the global average temp has been rising. What is being debated is the cause of that rise. Is it natural? Is it man caused? Is it natural but with a human influence to increase the rate of increase? Is it caused by solar radiation? Is it caused by increased levels of methane? There are hundreds of theories as to why it happening. But its hard to ignore that it is happening by anyone looking at the raw data.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harvey

      @TJ - my computer is turned off while not in use; as are the other appliances in my home when not is use. While hard to pin it down empirically, I estimate I save about $50 a month ($600 a year) by taking simple steps. It is obvious you don't give a damn about the environment. What I don't understand is why you don't give a damn about saving money.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff S

      @I agree....you are using evidence from local weather to discount a global climate change? That's a big problem in this debate. People do not know the difference between weather and climate. Nor do they realize that global warming is based on a global average, not the temp in a single location. Local weather patterns change frequently. Global climate moves at a much slower pace. there is a big difference. It is important to understand the difference if you want to truly understand the issue.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Interesting: during elections, conservatives usually love the way the Democrats eat their young and lack of focus/discipline, yet, we get accused of a lemming mentality on global warming. Make up your mind, TJ. Frankly, you've given us a textbook example on the Conservative Cult mentality that exists, where any deviation of thought is viewed with as heresy. After watching Chris Wallace do a Stalinist show trial apology for calling Michelle Bachmann a flake, I don't think a conservative would know freedom of thought if it jumped and bit them on the ass. They are too scared of uncertainty.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • @Jeff S

      The earth already had an ice age. The earth used to be covered with water in different areas. Deserts used to be huge lakes, oceans, etc. The climate is not static. It never has been and never will be. All that's necessary is to look beyond a small window of time and there's no denying that fact. Even looking at recorded temperatures for the past 100+ years, regardless of the region, proves over and over that they are not constant and they deviate. It doesn't mean at once and it doesn't mean the impact is the same. The industrial revolution and pollution was far greater in the past. However, Gore and others have found a way to make something that doesn't exist profitable, much like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and Easter Bunny.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      ****You liberals are mostly all alike, just like lemmings.

      How can you have an intelligent conversation with this "?
      He calls us lemmings while spouting Republican garbage and talking points.
      I am becoming convinced that being Conservative is in fact a disease.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gene

    Earth First!

    (We'll exploit the other planets later)

    September 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SparkyL56

    maybe if it keeps warming up we will be able to establish new farmland in areas that were previously frozen.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • CT

      And the areas that formerly held farmland will become rainless deserts. Just ask Texas.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. BunnyFooFoo

    The climate change community are their own worst enemy, and have mostly their own short-sighted antics to blame for fueling the doubt that surrounds this important field.

    Its half-educated, non-scientist boosters in Hollywood and Washington have cried wolf so many times, issuing deliberately exaggerated prophecies of doom to "raise awareness" or manipulate the passage of legislation that serves their own agendas (or, in the case of Al Gore, to make millions of dollars while living a lifestyle completely at odds with his publicly-stated beliefs) that they have destroyed the credibility of the entire field with the public.

    The scientists, for their part, have been far too content to toe the line in exchange for grant money. The "climategate" emails were not nearly as scandalous as some vocal critics have claimed, but what they did reveal was researchers operating under a siege mentality who too easily compromised the principles of peer review, fair argument, and transparency in the face of external pressure. In a controversial field, it's all the more important to hold yourself to an unimpeachable standard of conduct, and they failed to do that.

    If they're serious about getting results and educating the public about this important question, they need to spend less time trying to scapegoat Fox News and more time cleaning up their own house.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      It seems to me that for the right, "climategate" was just an opportunity to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Short-sighted antics? Describe exactly what "short_sighted antics" from the scientific community, and their impact? If you can't support your statement attacking scientists, then please be quiet. FYI, the people who are attacking and ridiculing Al Gore for making millions are letting their jealousy and hatred show. Margaret Thatcher never denied the science behind global warming, she questioned the methods to reduce or reverse it.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • @Real Tom Paine in the ....

      The records being broken are from around 1900 and even before. This predates the industrial revolution and all these things people are claiming caused the current cycle. The earth's orbit is not perfect or consistent from year to year. A slight deviation in the orbit or angle of the earth's axis has a huge impact on weather. The impact is far greater than all these claims of greenhouse gases, etc. Even at a basic level, if the claims were true, then the records being broken would be from the previous 10 – 20 years, not 100 years ago. The science is out there, only it doesn't support global warming once you eliminate the reports created by communities directly tied to the special interest groups.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • BunnyFooFoo

      Manipulating the peer review process by freezing out dissenting views from publication?

      Deliberately refusing to cite or acknowledge opposing views in publications such as the reports to the IPCC?

      Deliberate non-compliance with requests for data under freedom of information requirements, to the point of threatening to destroy data?

      The impact is that this sort of malfeasance not only dishonestly obstructs open scientific debate but convinces the public that you're up to no good and have something to hide, which undermines everything you're trying to accomplish.

      As far as Al Gore, living like a bloated medieval duke in a giant, power-sucking mansion while lecturing the world about the evils of consumption does not exactly help his cause. I don't know about you, but I think that what someone does is a lot more telling than what he says. That sort of behavior makes a mockery out of the whole issue.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. steve

    Typical GBW argument:

    "New study shows that the earth is warming faster than previously thought"
    "The earth warms and cools in natural cycles humans have nothing to do with it"
    "But the RATE of warming increased significantly since deforestation in the 1800s and industrial revolution pollution in the 19th century"
    "But the CO2 produced by humans is small compared to natural CO2 produced"
    "Yes while the earth naturally produces most of the CO2 in the atmosphere through decay and organism respiration, in the past this is balanced by pant photosynthesis. Today the CO2 emissions is out of balance due to increased emission and decreased photosynthesis form deforestation. The evidence shows current CO2 levels are at 380 ppm, where historically they are between 180-300ppm"
    "Well CO2 isn't even the biggest contributer to greenhouse gases, it is water vapor. So we don't even do much"
    "Also true, but as CO2 emissions raises atmospheric temperature this leads to more water vapor in the atmosphere due to higher saturation levels"
    "......hold on let me see what Fox news and Glenn becks tells me what to say now"

    September 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nah

      Are you so partisan and dogmatic that you can't help but bring Glenn Beck up in your posts?

      If your comment is an indication of your intelligence, perhaps you shouldn't hold any political views at all.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      Oh no I said something bad about Glen Beck... While admittedly that may have been uncharacteristically a low blow for me, to contend that I should hold no political views based on my intelligence is ludicrous. I do value my intelligence, I have studied science for years, and I am currently attending medical school. Do not attempt to undermine my views by questioning if I am intelligent or not, that is surely a battle you will not win.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      @ Nah: Typical Right-wing arrogance in stating that anyone who does not share their views is a best a child and at worse, a traitor. The statement you attacked is an example of the sort of global warming deniers' propaganda, which is put out by shills like Beck and funded by Koch Industries, who have a vested interest in NOT changing their methods because they fear the cost. A 19th century technology is what you are defending: do you really fear the possibility of finding an alternative? You're not an American if you feel that way.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Henry1960

    Hey rwmsrobertw...

    How do you and your 97% explain the warming cycles observed in the written (past 2000 years) and even the geological record covering millions of years of the Earths existence? Your "science" is a joke and a scam. Also, please explain Al Gore's (among many other so-called crusaders) rapid rise in wealth over the past several years as a direct result of promoting and investing in sham "green" industries. Is he sincere or just in it for the buck???

    September 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • rwmsrobertw

      The fact that the global temperature changed in the past before humans existed does not in any way mean that human activity cannot change global temperatures now. I have presented some of the scientific evidence that humans are in fact responsible for the 35% increase in carbon dioxide observed over the last 130 years. If you want to convince me that the consensus of the scientifc community is completely wrong, you need to get someone to start doing the research to show that that is the case. Until you do that, you have nothing.

      Al Gore (and his motivations for what he does) is not a factor in whether or not global warming is human caused. I know he is a convenient target for those who deperately wish there was no such thing as global warming, but the only real way to understand global warming is to do the research that attempts to determine the causes. Ignore Al Gore and pay attention to the science. If you think that global warming is not real, then you need to get a whole lot more climatologists working to produce the research to show that is the case. So far, that is not happening in any signifigant way, and a lot of people arguing on the Internet is not going to change that.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Skepticalaboutskeptics

    Dear Climate Change Skeptics,
    The Truth will set you free!!!!
    Sincerely,
    The Rest of the World

    September 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ricky

    Global Warming is the idiot invention of Scientists looking to validate their profession. The Earth has gone and always will under go climate changes...Now we are in a change that is melting ice bergs..Sooner or later it will snap back to normal. If anything a moderate Ice age is more likely......

    September 12, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff S

      where is your evidence to support that? While I agree with you in principle that climate change is natural and cyclic, you cannot ignore that during the last 100 years the human population has exploded exponentially. You cannot tell me that the growing population is not going to effect the planet in some way since the population was minuscule to what is today. More cars, bigger cities, and more demand for natural resources. You cannot change a system that drastically and not expect it to react different than it did 100-500 years ago.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      Ricky,
      I have a scientist here who would like to study you
      and find out what your malfunction is.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mark Kuhar

    TJ, you'd go outside in a thunderstorm and claim it wasn't raining. All conservatives are lemmings. Say it on Fox News? Check! Say it on Rush Limbaugh? Check! Say it on Sean Hannity? Check! Say it on Glenn Beck? Check! Hmmm, let me check my alternative sources. What does O'Reilly say? Check! George Bush? Check! Just to be sure, I better let the Heritage Foundation weigh in. Check! Just to cover all the bases, what do the Koch Brothers say? Check! Wait a minute, I better ask Rick Perry. Check! Oh wait Alaska has a lot of ice. Let's check with Sarah Palin. Confirmed! I checked many sources. There is no global warming! L-O-S-E-R!!!!!!!!!!

    September 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. think4urself

    Simple question: 2011 was the 2nd hottest summer. The first was 1936 (75 years ago). If man-made global warming is the cause for 2011, then what caused it to be so hot in 1936 when there was less man-made activity? Please don't reply with political non-sense from either side. This is a science question, not a political one. Thanks!

    September 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      1936 Heat wave was the hottest on record for the united states, it was not the hottest global temperatures which have occurred since 2000. The cause of the 1936 heatwave in the US has been attributed to drought and poor land management which caused the Midwest to further increase in temperature as the barren land took on desert characteristics amplifying the heat. Combined with a high pressure system along the west coast, the heat was funneled northward toward the great lakes.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • cerambus

      Most climate scientists use ice core data to calculate temperature for a much broader period than 1937- now. Looking at the ice core can determine the types of gases in the atmosphere and how much of each there is. They then use existing data about how these gases affect temperature to estimate temperature in the past. It isn't perfect, but it allows for analysis of thousands of years of data.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      A spike here or there over the last century isn't the point – it's the steady climb in the average temperature. To say that your question is a science question is disingenous – it's really just a loaded political question, thinkly veiled as a science question, in an attempt to bolster a talking point – you're cherry picking a single year out of the last century. The temperature is supposed to go up and down each year. It does, and there are spikes here or there where it peaks in either direction. It's been going up a little more on average and going down a little less on average for decades now – and the last three decades have been significantly warmer than anything recorded. Whatever the cause, that's the truth.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      The weather.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Undenyable

    The earth was previously covered with forests, which created our oxygen rich atmosphere, low in carbon dioxide. Humans hit the scene and cut down the majority of the trees on earth and replace them with automobiles that spew carbon dioxide.

    The atmosphere will certainly change, rapidly. Consider that it takes about 10 trees to offset 1 human just breathing.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Curtis Rivers

    With the vast percentage of scientists agreeing with climate change and human impact on it, the Republicans and Tea Party advocates unite to show their gigantic disregard for truth and scientific fact. Energy, and other, industries which stand to profit by keeping the status quo, spend vast sums to keep the naysaying idiots vocal, while the future looks increasingly bleak.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      We've seen the continued erosion of the existence of fact and objectivity over the last fifteen years, as those that find that evidence disagrees with their faiths and philosphies search for ways to reconcile their own dissonance and further their own agendas.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JFo

    We have the ability to end world hunger, yet we don't. What makes you think we can get enough countries to do something to stop the reduct the release of greenhouse gas enough to make a difference? I would rather worry about things I can actually change. If man made global warming exists, all this hot air debating is just making it worse. Y'all go save the whales or something and give up beating this dead horse of an issue.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Peter

    Natural, man-made, or a bit of both......SOMETHING is going on. But I fear that we will not easily get to the bottom of it. There is too much money at stake for the extremists who say either "don't worry its nothing" or "the world is ending". The truth is in there someplace. I wish we could get to it easily. And to those who quote scientists pro or con, I will simply say "more doctors say Camel Cigarettes cause no irritation or harmful effects". Money talks. Truth walks.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. KIlovolt

    Sorry TJ, but most conservatives, like me, believe man has abused the earth and is a primary contributing factor to rapid warming of the planet's climate. It's not a political left or right thing, it's common sense and has nothing to do with the party you vote for.

    September 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Be careful, you'll have someone questioning your patriotism and/or sanity next. As far as they are concerned, you're a candidate for a Glen Beck re-education camp. With their insistence that anything that smacks of liberalism is a mental disorder, they would have you committed in a heartbeat.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      Keep talking like that and you will be banned from the party.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
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