Just how bad has the situation in the Arctic gotten? In the past week alone, scientists estimate that an area almost twice the size of Britain disappeared as a result of the unprecedented heat. So much ice has now melted, in fact, that the Northwest Passage has become fully navigable for the first time in history, and the Northeast Passage — which straddles Russia's Arctic coast — could follow suit by the end of this month.
If present trends continue, scientists predict that the Arctic could become ice-free within 23 years. To put that into context, it took the last 30 years for it to lose almost a third of its ice. "It's amazing. It's simply fallen off a cliff and we're still losing ice. If you asked me a couple of years ago when the Arctic could lose all of its ice, then I would have said 2100, or 2070 maybe," said Mark Serreze, an Arctic expert at the University of Denver's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The latest estimates put the area of the ice cap at about 1.7 million sq mi (or 4.4 million sq km) — a sharp decline from the 7.7 million sq km average recorded from 1979-2000 and a dwindling figure that has yet to hit bottom. Not surprisingly, Serreze lays most of the blame for this rapid fall squarely at the feet of anthropogenic global warming: "The rules are starting to change and what's changing the rules is the input of greenhouse gases. This year puts the exclamation mark on a series of record lows that tell us something is happening."
God forbid we'd need any more exclamation marks before we start taking some serious action...
Via ::Guardian Unlimited Environment: Ice-free Arctic could be here in 23 years (news website)
See also: ::In Harpers Magazine: The Battle for the Melting North, ::Arctic Emissaries Head to Washington
Image courtesy of AP/John McConnico