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. Michael Allen

    Got Radiative Forcing?

    Look it up, AGW deniers...look it up 🙂

    September 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Let's see, Pollution from cars, trains, planes, smoke stacks, fires, explosions, chemical explosions and spills, oil spills, and a host of others aren't related to Global Warming. Anyone who thinks this doesn't have an adverse effect on our world is a complete 100% moron with no education. I rest my case.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • stealthycat

      every time the earth warms is it due to humans? because we know for a fact the Earth's temps have risen and fallen to great extremes over the past few millions years right?

      silly people ......... global warming is natural, normal, part of the flow of the planet. nothing more – its been "warming" ever since the last glaciers started receding.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • stealthycat

      if you think Global Warming is directly due to humans ......... then humans have been affecting it since the glaciers started receding a few thousand years ago.

      You REALLY want to make that your argument? Seriously?

      September 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.K.

      stealthycat, what you and others below are referring to are changes that took place over thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years. Global climate change at the current rate is unprecedented in the geologic record.

      Why do people stubbornly and arrogantly assume that they know more than an expert who has spent his or her entire career studying a particular issue? Just because you can look something up on Wikipedia does not qualify your opinion to override that of almost every PhD level climatologist in the world.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Stealthycat – you and those who lack the capacity to think through this clearly don't understand the argument (nor the science). Let me break it down for you. 1) The earth is warming. 2) Human activity has some effect on that warming process, as do other factors. 3) The only question has to do with the EXTENT of warming that is caused by human activity. And if 1) and 2) are true (which they are, UNDENIABLY, unless you are a dolt, or Rick Perry, if that is not redundant), it makes sense to reduce the amount of human influence. Regardless, we need to prepare for climate change – which means improving infrastructure, looking at popluation influences, etc. Are you smart enough to get that?

      September 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R


      Let's say you are right and the unprecedented rapid rise* in temperature is natural. What are you suggesting we do about it in order to mitigate the effects of this? Are you advocating the building of seawalls? How about relocation programs? New infrastructure development to deal with shifting climatic regions? Dealing with significant changes in growing seasons? Natural or not, what are *you* going to do about it?

      * Temperatures have risen and fallen in the past – this much is entirely true. The difference is that these shifts would occur over a periods of hundreds if not thousands of years. We are seeing significant temperature shifts in the span of decades. The warmign climate is a problem but the *bigger* problem is how quickly it's happening. No one opposed to the idea of AGW has provided a rational explanation for the swiftness of the temperature increase.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barak Yomama

      It is interesting that the history referred to when claiming an historic low takes us all the way back to the 1970s. That's a lot of history! The unsupported assertion that the warming is man made is directly in-line with Gorian philosophy.
      Kevin appears to be certain of his conviction (or is that the Gorian theory that you follow like a sheep).
      There is ample evidence that the heating and cooling cycles of the earth are regulated by the sun. The ice melt cannot be explained by 40 years of observation. Paleoclimatology may help all the Gorians understand that there is more to history than the past 40 years.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barak Yomama


      Here is the explanation for the rapid rise

      September 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    Malarky! Who comes up with this stuff...liberal meterologists, that's who! Let's suppose I took the side of these "crazies" and somewhat believed in "global warming": Let's take a look at the up-side. Pretty soon the caldera will erupt in Yellowstone, which will create a colossal ash cloud. Back to the Ice Age we'll be flung! So, let's be happy that the ice is melting. Pretty soon, we'll have more than we know what to do with!

    September 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      .....and I am sure you are not sure the earth is round, we landed on the moon and that dinosaurs really roamed the earth. What a moron.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GeoffW

    Horribly misleading headline that once again muddles the climate change debate. This is not a "historic" low, the cap, the earth has been warmer and more humid than today for the vast majority of its existence. This story, like many others, intentionally confuses long known and understood "climate change" in which the earth naturally warms and cools with the more controversial and unproven anthropormorphic impacts (i.e. human impacts).

    September 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Only to an idiot would the headline be misleading – the lead sentence states, quite clearly, since 1972 – when they began being monitored by satellite. Those who are confused are those who confuse science with politics – climate change is an observable phenomenon. The science on it is crystal clear – the last time something like this happened, there were far fewer humans, located in far fewer places, and there was very little human activity that contributed to production of greenhouse gases. If you are too stupid to get the science. say so. The rest of us note the FACT that ice caps are melting, in our lifetime. Glaciers have disappeared, in our lifetime. The planet has become less forested, in our lifetime. And the SCIENCE, regardless of what pandering opportunists preach to gullible morons, is quite clear.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • sfsocla

      Only 3% of scientists argue that humans have not contributed to the rapidly changing global climate...and a lot of other folk with their heads in the sand. If you look for who pays the 3% who still don't believe, their picture becomes quite clear too.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • GeoffW

      @Marc – did you even read what you wrote. Your response to the demonstrable science that there has been more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the vast majority of earth's history is to say that there were fewer humans then and so since we are seeing increases today it must be because of human activity. I would like to mock the logic, but it is the same kind of stupidity being mouthed by PhDs everywhere. Take a look at medieval warming period and understand its significance and then we can talk.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Damon

      Well Geoff, considering the medieval period ended in the 15th century and thermometers weren't developed until the 16th century, "well it was warmer this year than last", is nominal, at best.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • GeoffW

      Wow, the level of understanding here is frightening. Those proclaiming the end of the world because of the human impact on global warming use a wide variety of tools including carbon dating, tree rings and simple anectdotal accounts to support their theory for the period before there was instrumentation. These are the folks you are supporting if you believe that man has huge impacts on climate change. However, it is undisputed in the scientific community that if there was a warming trend during the medieval period, then the impacts of man have been overstated. There is data supporting the claims of those challenging climate change as being largely man driven, but because that data is only for the northern hemisphere and not the southern hemisphere those advocating mans impact on global warming claim that the medieval warming data is inconclusive.

      I love people that call others stupid or foolish and rely purely on words that they have been taught to parrot.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Paul Battis

    Research "Sun Flares"

    Do your own research. Many scientists will say whatever gets the grants coming their way.

    A very similar situation: So far just a handful of universities have tested the dust from the WTC for accelerants. One being the University of Copenhagen and the other that I'm aware of is Brigham Young U. Even NIST did not test the dust or metal for accelerants. And guess what they found? Well, don't guess, research it and find out for yourself. And when you find out, ask yourself where are all the other science people on this and where are the 1000s of universities?

    It comes down to saying what has to be said in order to get money for the programs. And so the outcome is decided and then the data is stacked to equate to that pre-determined outcome.

    The globe is constantly warming and cooling. Always has been and always will. Sun flares are not man made.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Since jets crashed into the WTC, containing jet fuel, I would guess, DUH, that there would be significant amount of accelerant. People who wear tinfoil hats aren't qualified to comment on science. Or reality, for that matter.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      Oh I get it, this is the 'it was done by thermite!" theory. So they would look for powdered iron oxide and aluminum and say "Ah ha! these are the components of thermite so thermite must have been used! It *was* all a plot". We'll take a moment and ignore the fact that thermite is really poorly suited for this sort of task (you'd need a lot and it flows with gravity so you'd only get horizontal braces). So how do we explain the iron oxide and aluminum? Well, it was a *steel* framed building that used a lot of aluminum on the facade. As such, if you didn't find traces of iron oxide (aka rust) and aluminum that would be remarkable.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. gh

    The lowest since 1972 oh no... what will we ever do??? lol In the 1600's and 1800's it was lower. But idiots who claim global warming as so short sighted.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • cyg

      were you measuring then? Anybody sail up there to measure? No – so you don't know that. More GOP lies from big oil.

      September 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      Well in the 50's and 60"s there was global cooling caused by the humans. Now the same activity creates global warming. wait a few decades and we will be creating global cooling again. in either case who cares about a one degree move

      September 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Failed science, didn't you? That's OK – just go grab some books and start catching up. Else you'll end up voting for the Tea Party and celebrating stupidity and ignorance loudly and belligerently.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc Benarrous

      so in twenty years when we have no polar caps what will you gop'ers say then? in 1430 there was no arctic ice cap? Come on people. regardless if you think this is global warming or the natural flux of temps- We are screwed without the ice caps.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Starman

      You can't cure stupid and that's what drives the deniers.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Damon

    Herbie the Dentist, so you are saying that all the extra gases in the atmosphere that has been put there by humans since the industrial revolution is good? ever heard of acid rain? that is one side effect of letting toxic gases in mass amounts enter our atmosphere. Global warming just happens to be what extent I do not now...

    September 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kevin

    "since scientists began observing it with satellites in 1972"... so your basis for crisis is based on a 30 year study of a 4 BILLION year old earth. Earths history cannot be measured in such a small amount of time. What has the ice done in the past 500 thousand years? I imagine its probobly melted and come back, melted and come back. Just like most things that occur on this earth, at the end of the day, its not in humans hands.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • cyg

      Wonder if the human race will come back if we choose to do "nothing" and watch it happen, and not prepare?

      September 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      You are so right! I mean, think about what is was like when Pangea existed! We didn't even have a Greenland or Antartica then! Or even better, think about what it was like 4.25 billion years ago when the surface of the Earth was nothing more than boiling lava exposed to hard vacuum! The planet survived all of that no problem!

      Okay, maybe it would be a little rough on people but that's not the point, right? So what if our entire civilization has developed in a remarkably climatically calm 15,000 year period. So what if our ability to produce enough food to feed ourselves is based on *current* weather and climate patterns. We will survive. Okay, we'll be in a world of hurt and it will suck but the species will survive and, more importantly, I'll be right!

      September 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      Gee Kevin.......mmmmm
      I am pretty sure that they know how to take core samples that will show them
      what was happening thousands of years ago.......
      Its all part of the "magic" that is called......SCIENCE !

      September 12, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. cyg

    for all you GOP numbnuts out there that say this is a cycle – got a real simple question for you – how did that last cycle fare for the the dinosaurs? You want to be the one struggling here in 20 years? Keep it up...

    September 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. God

    read the last days of ancient sunlight

    September 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |

    With all the science classes i took getting my masters, true it is in an unrelated field but, one of the major idea's they drill into your head is that correlation does not equal causation. with that said yes it is obvious that we are in the middle of a climate change, but these have happened numerous times in the age of the Earth. we are trying to make a grand assumption when we haven't really been studying it for that long, relatively to the age of the earth. the impact of man on these events are a guess, we could be hurrying it up or it could be a natural occurring event either way it was bound to happen. we have far less control over this planet than people believe

    September 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      Okay, CO2 is a known heat trapping gas. That's basic physics, right? Now, we are, as you know, pumping gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. At the same time we are rapidly deforesting the world. So you have a lot of heat trapping gas *and* a significant reduction in the carbon sinks (plant life). What, exactly, do you think will happen in that scenario?

      Also, you are right, correlation does not imply causation. Of course, the analysis of the data has clearly shown causation with high levels of confidence according to statistical analysis.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Damon

    Wow, I did not realize this many sacred educated conservatives even came to cnn. I'm telling Fox!!

    September 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Damon, I was being facetious. I thought it might be fun to stir up the conservatives on here. I didn't realize I was going to be a voice among thousands! You'd better tell FOX that CNN is giving a major headline to the TEA crazies, too. It's the end of CNN as we know it!!!

      September 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jean

    Some comments here remind me of a New Yorker article I read about the Koch brothers. Their lobbyists were told all they have to do is cast doubt on climate change science. Once people doubt it, they're unwilling to change. Most scientists believe they've proved human-caused acceleration of normal climate changes. The greater speed and severity of the changes makes it difficult or impossible for many species to adapt.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ralk

    Funny how only lib media outlets even say something as stupid as this hoax was proven over a year ago how the ruse was discovered in the UK and how the BS is all hyped up and there is no proof that shows this at all...but cnn keeps lowering itself to beyond real stupidity with this don't see these lies on FOX...wonder why.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • no1der

      Nice trolling, man... you sound just like the clowns who really believe that stuff!

      September 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |

      still believing the world is flat? or did you give up on fighting that "hoax"

      September 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Damon

      And oil spilling in the Gulf is a good thing right?

      September 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • detada

      The word "Fox" and the word "Truth" are oxymorons. And, I am sure Slick Perry, at tonight's Tea Bagger debate, will address global warming as another "Ponzi" scheme.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Planet Earth - Nice real estate, good location, fixer upper

      you don't see these lies on FOX

      I just spit beer all over my screen.

      September 12, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gina

    Thank goodness for global warming or we never would have come out of the last ice age!! Oh wait... cars and factories weren't around back then! I wonder how it could have all melted?? I cringe every time I read something about the "last 100 year." Yeah, a lot has changed in that time like the ability to record, gather and bring data all to one place. Prior to that, any record keeping seems like it would be obsolete because it would just be more of an estimate than fact. Whatever happened to that terrible hole in the ozone that was all the rage in the late 80s/early 90s? No one talks about that anymore! I doubt humans created it and I doubt it just disappeared because we stopped using CFCs! Gah!

    September 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • no1der

      So why do you mention the last ice age if you want to reject all but the most recently recorded data? The fact that you know anything at all about the ice ages or any past climate is brought to you mainly by the same earth science community that is becoming so extremely alarmed by current deviations and trends.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gina

      My point is that recent data is most likely very accurate because of the technologies we now have. Prior to that, temperatures would have to be mostly estimated, right? I'm no scientist but I'm guessing you can't be 100% sure of global temperatures 1000 years ago or even 300 years ago. You don't have to be specific to know that there have been previous ice ages and melt offs. It's possible that all ice ages end the way this current one is but no one was around back then to witness and record it. Scientists can only look at current and small snippets of data. If I remember right, in the 1970s, scientists were sure we were heading toward another ice age!

      September 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R


      In the 1970s a couple of scientists put forward the idea that we might be entering a period of cooling. The media *jumped* on the idea like rabid dogs. Suddenly, a couple of scientists having a speculative conversation with other scientists becomes *fact*! The truth of the matter is that hardly any climatologist felt there was any credence to that theory and it was quickly dismissed. I'm sorry you weren't told about that. Now, how do we know the same thing won't happen with AGW? Well, the theory was first put forward in the early 1950s. Since that time a large number of scientists have been working very hard to prove the theory wrong (that's how science works. You suggest and idea and then everyone else attacks it) and they haven't been able to. We have 60 years of research into global warming. The theory is sound.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      Oh the ozone still exists. It's smaller in size than it was but it's still there. In fact, 2006 was the largest on record. They have also verified that the chlorinated compounds in CFCs have been found in the ozone layer. We know that chlorine depletes ozone. QED. Just because *you* personally haven't heard about it doesn't mean that it isn't happening.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • no1der

      Gina, I didn't mean to be disrespectful in my comment. You are obviously interested in the subject and are asking good questions. In fact we have a pretty good record of past climate going back several hundreds of thousands of years, though as you correctly point out, there are no actual fossil thermometers. Instead, the detailed records found by drilling the ice caps and counting back through the annual layers, and the studies of sediment cores, which may be approached similarly, do provide certain other indicators – samples of atmospheric gasses, changes in biota, changes in isotopic ratios of various elements – that can be used to provide good proxies for temperature, and can be correlated to current or past conditions. These data on past climate from various places all over the world, have been used to inform models of Earth's climate system – and against these models of how the system has worked in the past, the recent few decades are very unusual in the speed and suddenness of the change, and can be explained only by the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels.

      September 12, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. chris

    Global warming will happen no matter what we do, it has happened in the past and will happen in the future. What do you think got rid of the ice packs that covered all of the Northern Hemisphere, global warming. The only problem is that pollution is speeding up that process.

    September 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Damon

      Exactly right. What is funny is the mentality of quite a few people on a certain side of the political line think that "if it was going to happen anyway, whats the problem?, its natural!"...

      September 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
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