North Pole: Could be Ice-Free this Year, But Some Hope Left

Let's start off this post with another round of good/bad news, shall we? The bad: According to new data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the North Pole could become ice-free this summer because of a record low in ice formation. The good news: Its ice expanded at a greater rate this winter than it did in 2007, and there is the possibility that a milder, more cyclonic atmospheric pattern this summer could help preserve it.

first year ice

Image courtesy of the NSDIC

As April reported last month -- and as the New Scientist's Catherine Brahic reports here -- the odds certainly aren't stacked in favor of the North Pole retaining its slivers of ice. Indeed, many scientists are expecting that the region, which will likely become ice-free within the next few months, could become a new hub for shipping activities and tourism. Or, as the NSIDC's Mark Serreze puts it: "The set-up for this summer is disturbing."

It wasn't too long ago that we reported that the Northwest Passage had opened up for business. Though the Arctic's ice recovered and actually expanded over the winter -- now covering an area greater than it did last March -- most of it is thin, young ice, which is much more vulnerable to rising temperatures. Also, keep in mind that Arctic ice typically reaches its maximum in March, and that the trend since 1978 has been less than rosy -- with the ice decreasing by roughly 44,000 square kilometers per year on average.

What scientists are most concerned about is not the possibility that the North Pole could become ice-free, but the fact that multi-year ice (the ice that doesn't melt during the summer) is not keeping up with the Arctic ice melting trend. Under typical circumstances, a portion of the newly formed, or first year, ice melts during the ensuing summer; in 2007, however, almost all of it was gone. Furthermore, the Arctic oscillation, an atmospheric event that causes strong winds in the region, threatens to push what multi-year ice remains out -- aggravating an already serious problem.

As mentioned earlier, the only (meager) solace Serreze offered was the possibility that a cooler atmospheric pattern this summer could save some of the first year ice. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed.

Via ::New Scientist: North Pole could be ice free in 2008 (news website)

See also: ::North Pole New Shipping, Tourism Destination, ::Northwest Passage All But Ice-Free

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