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. Kuddln

    Is it true that when the Artic ice cap melts to beyond what weight it has... that the Earth's crusts will start to shift and fall-apart similiar to what the movie "2012" showed ? I just think that all the ice weight being gone, something has to shift around ? Am I wrong?

    September 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • maurypovich

      No, it is not true. However, Santa Claus is going to have to buy some Fall attire.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Juice

      Water, what it will turn into, is denser than ice. The mass doesn't disappear!

      September 12, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcus in MN

      The arctic ice mass floats on water; its melting will not raise the sea level or lighten the load on any dry land. On the other hand, the ice on Greenland and Antarctica does indeed sit on land and when it melts it does raise the sea level.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • exg016

      Ice floats in water not on water, i think about 70 percent of an iceberg is in the water but the 30 percent that is not in the water when it melts will raise the sea level because that volume is not a part of the water when it is floating in water

      September 12, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • f

      No. Ice and water have the same weight and mass, only different size due to the expansion of ice when water freezes.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  2. justathought

    What difference does it make, I'm only going to be here for maybe another 20-30years and I don't believe that the snow melt at the artic is going to reduce the land mass near so much as is prediced. the ocean level may raise a foot or so, but so what? What can we do by talking about it? We have bigger problems to solve–what's for supper?

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

      ...chicken (not fried) and a large salad.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • First *s* in Tsawwassen is Silent

      I'm in for dinner and I'll bring the dessert!

      I love how we continue to define historic as 100-200 years when the earth has been in existence for 4.5 BILLION years and gone through several freeze/thaw cycles. Humanity is so arrogant to believe we are the catalyst for everything.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JoeSeattle

    Apparently someone missed the memo. The theory of man-made global warming has been debunked as a fraud. The earth may be warming, but it's not man-made (sorry, but you really are helpless in the face of nature – get over it). Antarctica is gaining mass, by the way; but the global warming jihadists won't find time to mention that.

    If you're still on the man-made global warming thing, I suggest you come back into regular contact with society. It'll be OK. Really. The Y2K scare was also a sham. We're all still here.

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

      No thanks. I prefer to live in reality. You stick with your bible and we'll call it a day.

      Haven't had rain for over three months in texas with triple digits every day...wish you were here to enjoy the weather with us.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mahhn

      You watch Fox news to much. Fox news followers have been proven to be the most misinformed people. Learn to read geological studies and not oil company propaganda.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • rwmsrobertw

      Hint – nonsensical claims by bloggers that man made global warming is a fraud do not debunk the consensus view of 97% of the world's climatologists that global warming is real and human caused. Those claims were presented in peer reviewed articles published in the scientific journals. The only way to debunk those claims is to do further research that shows that the scientist's findings are incorrect and to get that research published in the scientific journals where it can be reviewed by real scientists (not bloggers and/or shills for and dupes of fossil fuel corportations).

      I will say that I see one refreshing thing here. The evidence that global warming is real has become so ovewhelming that only a very few (those most disconnected from reality) can deny that the warming is real. They have to fall back on their equally false belief that the observed warming is not caused by human activity. I saw something similar happen with creationists a decade or two ago when the vast majority of them could no longer deny that speciation really does occur. It sad that it is so slow, but at least it is progress.

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

      I simply don't understand how anyone can think as you do in the face of the evidence we have. Why don't you move to south Florida or somewhere else that is below 25' sea level. I promise you will be moving in less than a generation–and not by your choosing. And, if not man made, then why have average temps increaded so sharply in such a short period of time (say 50-ish years)? Only a cataclysmic cosmic event...or man...could cause that. Cite your sources please!

      September 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • no1der

      Funny how many posts just like yours also mention Y2K... was that on some website somewhere?

      September 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • A W

      But Al Gore said in his movie that (LOL)...

      Find me any unbiased scientists who will back up our jet-flying friend (LOL)...

      September 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      Global warming has been debunked
      because Joe from Seattle says so !
      Well, i guess thats good enough for me.

      Hey Joe, they grow some great weed in Seattle,
      dont they ?

      September 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      You don't even have to believe in science, just follow the money. Who's going to win if we ignore the facts and keep spewing carbon emissions into the air? Big Oil. Who's going to win if we quit spewing carbon emissions into the air? Me and you. Who has the most money to make believers out of suckers? Not you and me.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      @Joe... Man is destroying this planet. God is not real and you need to grow up. We're killing this planet and all you care about is living in the moment. How about your kids and their kids? Do you really think God is going to repair the planet?

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

      Well said rwmsrobert, and very accurate.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wayne Kernochan

      I assume you mean gaining ice, not mass. Older studies suggested that Antarctica may actually be gaining mass temporarily , as increased interior snow from higher temperatures outweighed increased glacier outflow. The newest, more detailed studies show that Antarctica is losing ice overall.

      September 12, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. maurypovich


    September 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt houston

      Yeah! You tell em Maurypovich! Let me call Jesus and we'll meet you at your place for drinks tonight. Wanna go muddin' too! And then a NASCAR race? How about hunting some rabbits or deer? I got an extra AK-47 I can lend you!

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

      This is exactly the POINT. Yes, the climate shifts dramatically with time due to natural causes, but those shifts are SLOW. Global warming is FAST. 1 degree C in 50 years is a huge rate of change, much faster than can be explained by natural causes.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chris The World Keeper

    It's a scientific fact that giant dragons lie beneath the artic ice. Once the ice melts, the earth will be destroyed by dragon's fire breath. We're all doomed.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChrisTheOriginalWorldKeeper


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

    We must stop our dependance on oil and STOP BURNING IT! We are supporting terrorist regimes by buying it and killing the earth by burning it! Electric vehicles HURRY UP!

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

      Yes, we need more vehiciles powered by coal!

      September 12, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      We need people smart enough to come up with reliable alternative energy that is not too expensive. Those people are apparently all in China, but we will be able to buy the technology from them.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Vietnam Vet

    OH NOS. The sky is falling!!! Only Karl Marx can save us.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AmFem

    How can we be so arrogant as to believe that all the damage that we are inflicting on the world... poison gases spewed into the air, mining and fracking, deforesting, chemicals and sewage pouring into all of our bodies of water...isn't causing it to react in some negative way? And,

    JoeSeattle...there's been no debunking of anything!!!

    September 12, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. GregOre

    "Since 1972"

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

      The..........use ...........of ............very...........................compelling...........................................................................

      September 12, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

    And now........
    A word from our sponsor.

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

      I live at the top of a hill overlooking the water. I can't wait for this supposed global warming to make the water rise to by backyard. Finally, I"ll have waterfront property !! Yeaaaa!

      September 14, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  11. baba

    Whether or not man made global warming exists is irrelevant. We cannot stop it, therefore stop trying and start preparing for the consequences (which, contrary to media reports, will not be armageddon).

    September 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wayne Kernochan

      This is scientifically incorrect. We can slow it and limit its maximum, which will have huge effects on the negative consequences. Realistic economic analyses show that "mitigation" is both cheaper and far more effective than adaptation.

      September 12, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CT Engineer

    1/2 percent less than the previous minimum? Statistically insignificant. What has been the variability in the last say ten years?

    September 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wayne Kernochan

      Insignificant of what? That is very poor use of statistics. Because the decline of sea ice has a valid model, while the alternative does not, the null hypothesis is that volume (not extent) will decline by greater and greater amounts until 3-4 years from now. The most likely outcome this year is that volume at minimum will be between 10 and 12% below last year.

      September 12, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ron

    Just like melting ice cubes in a glass doesn't cause an overflow, the ice melt over the ocean won't raise sea level much. Now if the ice melts from Greenland, then we will rising sea leves since the ice on Greenland does not live in the ocean.

    Once kids know the ice cap is gone in x amount of years, they'll know Santa Claus can't exist. Kinda sad when you think about it.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. augustghost

    im sure the right wing has an interesting lop sided opinion about this...just watch fox news to find out

    September 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jim

    I think people need to be much more concerned about global finances right now rather than global warming. If Greece and just one of either Italy or Spain defaults on its debt-a real possibility, then we are facing a global depression. Now that is scary . . . much more scary than something that may possibly happen. We need to place all of our efforts on avoiding another Great Depression. If it means delaying action on global warming, it is an appropriate choice of priorities.

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

      You are dead wrong. A global depression is no where near as bad as global destruction. It seems to me we have delayed for way too long already.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
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