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. Frank

    People of the United States of America and the World.
    Ok. if what is stated is true then someone needs to explain why the Major Cities around the world along the coastlines are not partialy under water.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • no1der

      ask Archimedes

      September 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duabert

      Put an ice cube in a glass of coke and measure how the height of the water changes when it melts. It won't because the density of the ice is lower than the space that it displaces and when it melts, the water level stays the same. The real concern is with the massive glaciers resting on top of Greenland. Since it is resting on rock and not floating, it eventually will contribute to a rise in water levels once it melts into the ocean.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • sdmco

      Frank you are too quick to reject science before you understand the problem. It is because arctic ice is already on the water, therefore it's volume is already accounted for. Like ice cubes in a glass, it does not overflow when the ice melts. When this enormous amount of water is released into the ocean, it changes the salt content and temperature, which changes ocean currents, which in turn change weather patterns. The melting that WILL cause islands and coastlines to become inundated is the ice sheets of Greenland and other locations. This ice rests on land, and then flows into the water. It is a very complex problem, which is why it is so important that we educate ourselves and stop parroting skeptic talking points. This is another example of how naive people are on this subject.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • jing


      September 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Craig B

      Google "netherlands dikes global warming". They've been holding back ocean water for over 2000 years to keep land from being reclaimed by the north sea, and it's getting measurably tougher for them. 60% of their country is under sea level, so if there's a "canary in the coal mine" with arctic ice melting and sea levels rising, the Netherlands might be it.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in Brevard

      People on the coasts are not under water for the same reason a scotch on the rocks doesn't overflow when the ice melts. Sea level has already compensated for the mass of the ice floating on the water.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Narrow Minded

      They are. Pay attention to the news last week?

      September 12, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wayne Kernochan

      The vast bulk of the sea rise likely under a "business as usual" scenario has not happened yet - because Greenland and Antarctica, which contain 215 feet of the 245 feet of possible sea rise from land ice melt, have only melted by insignificant amounts so far. The rise for the last 50 years is 1/2 foot, and the projected rise for the next 40 is 1/2-1 foot. However, the projected rise for 2050-2100 is 15-25 feet, and the rate increases after that. Before the sea level rise puts cities under water, higher storm surges will put salt water in their water supplies, which will mean their abandonment. Likely cities in the next 60 years include Miami, Boston, and (of course) New Orleans.

      September 12, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Farmer Bob

    So many Cries and Rallies against global warming made on coal-powered computers. Ironic.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom C

      Not on my machine. I pay Connecticut Edison (ConEd) a flat kilowatt/hour rate annually for 100% wind power through their "ConEd Solutions" program. It's a tad more expensive, but it allowed ConEd to purchase 5,700 kwh last year alone from wind farms based on my power usage.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Ironic, why? Should driving your old trade-in to the dealership to swap for your new one prompt an attack of conscience too?

      The coal industry aren't our benefactors – they're paid well for the power they source, and then some – not to mention the tax credits and various and sundry loopholes enjoyed at the expense of the taxpayer. Just because they're a prominent energy source today hardly means that these dinosaurs should enjoy either a free ride or our perpetual support.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LK2

    There ARE some cities that have already been gobbled up around Alaska. It's just a matter of time that more of the coastal areas will sink too, if we don't get this climate under control, and SOON! We should NOT turn a blind eye! Scientists have tried to warn about this years ago, but no one listened. Now, it may be too late. Many of the polar bears have already died as a result, and more will come. It's serious, and it's scary.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. A. Putin

    Well, l there go the margaritas.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lisa McClure

    "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."

    So history began in 1972?

    September 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      My thoughts exactly. Lots of data to base 'historic' changes on.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. macksy

    Back in the 70s I remember everyone saying we were going through another ice age because it was so cold. I guess if you keep throwing theories out there, you might get one right every million years.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • macksy

      And back in the 70s we use to get more snow (when it was colder). I guess that throws the global warming theory out the window. Time to come up with another one.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • no1der

      a bit of pop science from the '70's that no serious scientist ever supported.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in Brevard

      The cause of the 1960's cooling was excess particulate matter in the atmosphere, primarily from burning coal, preventing solar radiation from reaching the surface. Scrubbers removed most of the particulates and SO2, cleaning the air of these problems but allowing the CO2 problem to step into the forefront.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • f

      I remember the cries of "The Next Ice Age is coming!!" back in the 1970s. Scared the pants off of this 10 year old. The ice grew thicker on Greenland from 1940s to 1990s. Why? And why was no one complaining there is too much ice and the Ice Age is coming? Scientists have theorized that the earth has changed polar positioning over the course of history (meaning the angle of the earth shifts occassionally). Maybe its doing it again. Who cares? No one has died from this supposed "global warming". But Al Gore & Co. have made tons of money off this farce. Why? And where is the money?

      September 14, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Daniel

    The rallying cry used to be that mean ol humans were going to all but eliminate our winters. Now heavy snows and intense freezing is the BY PRODUCT of man made global warming. Well geez guys, how convenient. You've created a THEORY that works irrepsective of what climate presents itself. I hope none of you global warming mouth foamers own cars, computers, electricity, etc. I mean, you have to do your part, right?

    September 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill744

      Daniel should really try reading the literature before posting. Increased global air temperatures increase the amount of moisture that the atmosphere can hold, meaning increased precipitation overall. So, where it does snow, it may be more. But melting, evaporation and sublimation will also be increased. The data do show that the poles are a good deal warmer while the temperate and equatorial zones are not so much warmer, if at all.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Displeased

      So owning cars and using electricity exempts us from finding cleaner sources of energy?

      September 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in Brevard

      Daniel, take a look at this, please:

      September 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bill744

    Would that this report is addressed at the Tea Party sponsored Republican debate tonight. Then the crazies will have another chance to name the reputable climate scientists that are telling them that this is not really happening.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Amy

    Given how long those glaciers have been there. 1972 is not "historic" in any sense of the word. Recorded history would be more appropriate. The ice in those glaciers are millions of years old and will be there well after you and I are lowered 6 feet underground. Truth is that the Earth goes through natural warming and cooling phases and though we have probably added to the problem, what we have added, in the amount of time we've had the technology to add pollution to the air is probably not realistic to start showing "devastating" environmental damage in any real capacity. Especially when our data is based off of only decades.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • no1der

      No, any chunk of Arctic sea ice is only a few years old, tops. That's what makes it such a sensitive indicator of the water and air temperatures to which it is exposed during the annual freeze/thaw cycles. We're now at record low areal extent, almost all the 'old' (multi-year) ice is gone, and there's about 40% less of it by area than the 1979-2000 average, and both the Northeast and Northwest shipping passages are open. The changes are sudden and huge.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • sdmco

      The data is based not on just decades, but carbon and ice core measurements that do, as you say, date back millions of years. Through all the fluctuations that have occurred, they were matched by an increase in heat-trapping CO2. So, you will need to provide a mechanism other than CO2 that is responsible for those changes. You will also need to explain how now, when CO2 in the atmosphere is 35% higher than it has ever been, CO2 isn't causing the current rise in temperatures that are indisputable. Additionally, the temperature fluctuations you mention that have been observed through history typically took around 100,000 years, ten times slower than the increases that are being measured now.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in Brevard

      Amy, sea ice is not glacial ice. It is only a few years old and cannot grow to more than about 2 m thick. Glacial ice forms on land and can be kilometers thick. When it flows into the ocean, it eventually breaks and melts to about 2 m.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rob Schaeffer

    I believe the only debate left is weather man can actually contribute enough to change anything. Everything splits when you see these reports that say man made Global warming. Very few would say that man doesn't contribute. The difference is the people who think that man can do anything to totally change the effects of global warming. If we all stopped driving cars, taking planes, trains, used little to now eletricity. Would it suddenly change the effects of global warming? Not enough to be significant. Its the smallest since they started keeping records in 1972. That is not even before I was born, so how do we know this doesn't happen every 2 to 300 years or more?

    September 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      You're right about one thing – thanks to the massive industry-funded campaign of denial, we are indeed in a situation where global warming is too accelerated to effectively turn back. That doesn't mean we can't slow it down. No one expects society to make substantial enough cutbacks to its driving habits, but we certainly can discourage or slow down ongoing pollution where it's most effective – at the corporate level.

      The air, water, forests of this country belong to all of us, and to our children. There's absolutely no reason that a few greedy executives and shareholders should be leaching off our common property to drive their profits up. And that is ALL that you are being asked to do – ensure some corporate responsibility.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Richie

    back in World War 2, a flight of bombers and P-38's took off from the USA in route to England to fight the Germans. Along the way, they ran into very bad weather and had to turn back, but did not have enough fuel to make it to the USA. They landed all the planes on the ice in Greenland. The vital instruments were destroyed after landing and the piolets were picked up- leaving the planes behind. Now jump forward to the early 1990's when a research group went looking for those lost planes. They found the group of planes, but they were now 240+ feet (about 74 meters) under the ice. The researchers bored a large tunnel down through the ice and carved out one of the P-38s and dismantled it- bringing up the pieces to the surface. Those pieces were then taken back to the USA and put together again in KY, and the P-38 actually was able to fly one last flight before being retired to a museum.
    Now fast forward to 2010/2011. Global warming has hit the earth! The ice is melting at extreme rates. Our oceans and seas are rising. Threats of death to all human kind abound.
    Think about this... as soon as those remaining WW2 planes are once again sitting on top of the ice in Greenland, we will be back to the natural state of the world weather wise from the 1940's. Until then, I am not going to worry about global warming as it hasn't even gotten warm enough for long enough to take away the ice that has been in place for 70+ years.
    Oh, also note that in the 1970's, science had us going into an ice age due to the amount of CO2 the world was producing.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • macksy

      I don't need any more facts than this. As long as it doesn't freeze back over once the polar bears fall in, they should be fine....

      September 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe's Place

      Not to mention that records from Denmark show that farming was used on the shores of Greenland nearly 600 years ago. Either they figured out how to farm on ice, or the ice did not exist at that time. Sounds like a natural flux in the earth's weather patterns to me.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. guest

    Nice how our "Al Gore Followers" will say this is enough proof of "Man Made" Global Warming. This has only been watched since 1972. Show me what happened to the arctic Ice over the past few million years and how many times it has grown and melted without any cars on the roads or factorys. C'mon people. wake up and stop getting brainwashed by our environmentalist extremists who want to ruin our day to day lives.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • no1der

      In fact, perennial sea ice cover in the Arctic is a few decades – or even less – from vanishing for the first time in at least 700,000yr and probably more.

      You were saying...?

      September 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Where do all of you apologists find and parrot these same fake talking points? Do all of you watch the same right wing shows?

      Do you get that the environment is ours, our legacy to our children and grandchildren? The only targets of environmental responsibility are the polluting industries. Why anyone would want to side with the latter – other than those that are stockholders or on the polluter payrolls -iis beyond my comprehension.

      As for the tired old argument about this "happening anyway every thousand years".. species also go extinct every few thousand years. Congratulations on doing everything you can to make sure that we're on that road.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      Exactly. 14,000 years ago Montreal was buried under an ice sheet. 13,000 years ago the ice was melting and has since disappeared. Explain that. No humans caused that much ice to melt away. Why are we now to blame for the piddling amounts that keep getting reported. No there are more answers out there folks, keep looking.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim in Brevard

      Please look at this:

      September 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • guest

      Chris, Lets say this does happen every thousand years. What is the H3LL do you think you can do to stop it from happening again if a thousand years ago their was no man made pollution. You guys want to stop what our world does everyday to try and reverse something that will happen anyways. Its the natural progression of our earth. I'm not saying we should pollute more. nobody wants to drive into the city and smell exhaust fumes or turn on their sinks full of oil residue. You just need to use some common sense about how some things just happen, and its the way it has happened for a long long time.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chris

    Sea levels ARE rising. They're just not rising with the dramatic effect of a Tsunami, which apparently is what it would take for the climate change denial folk to sit up and take notice. We're all being slow-cooked, but a rise of a few inches isn't noticeable unless you're taking measurements. Until, that is, the warming effect is perceptibly exponential, by when it'll be too late. It may already be too late!

    September 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe's Place

      Is the sea level rising due to ice melt? I doubt that. Maybe more from underwater upheavals from volcanic and earthquake movement. If you take a cup of ice, fill it with water too, the ice melts, but doesn't overflow the cup- it goes down. Ice takes up more volume than liquid water, so the idea of melting ice raising the levels of the seas can't be correct.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      That "cup of ice" logic might explain displacement of sea water by ice that's already occupied it. It doesn't account for the melting of snow, ice, and glaciers that are presently well above sea level.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Progressive Veteran

    Gobal Warming? What Global Warming? Now that the Republicans are in control I thought we did away with the idea mankind was slowly but surely heating the earth up...

    September 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • macksy

      republicans are in control again. That must have been a long nap I took. Can't wait for the reality of it!

      September 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • guest

      LOL.. I was thinking the same thing. Hope that day comes in the near future, but its not the fact as of now.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    Even if all the floating sea ice melted, it would not raise the sea level because the ice displaces more volume of water than it would occupy if it were water. The problem is when the ice is displaced off a landmass like Greenland or parts of Antarctica.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • redisgreat

      So true. If only the ice melting freaks would have paid attention in high school physics class.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
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