Polar ice melting at all-time record rates

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Rapid change in the Arctic and Antarctic is a clear, visibly graphic signal of climate change. If current trends continue, there could be virtually no September sea ice by 2015

by Steve Connor
The Independent, Nov. 9, 2011

The frozen “cryosphere” of the Earth, from the Arctic sea in the north to the massive ice shelves of Antarctica in the south, is showing the unequivocal signs of climate change as global warming accelerates the melting of the coldest regions of the planet, leading polar scientists warned yesterday.

A rapid loss of ice is clear from the records kept by military submarines, from land measurements taken over many decades and from satellite observations from space. It can be seen on the ice sheets of Greenland, the glaciers of mountain ranges from the Andes to the Himalayas, and the vast ice shelves that stretch out into the sea from the Antarctic continent, the experts said.

The effect of the melting cryosphere will be felt by rapidly rising sea levels that threaten to flood coastal cities and low-lying nations, changes to the circulation of ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream, and possible alterations to the weather patterns that influence more southerly regions of the northern hemisphere, they said.

One of the greatest threats is the melting of the permafrost regions of the northern hemisphere which could release vast quantities of methane gas from frozen deposits stored underground for many thousands of years. Scientists are already seeing an increase in methane concentrations in the atmosphere that could be the result of melting permafrost, they said.

“The melting of the cryosphere is such a clear, visibly graphic signal of climate change. Almost every aspect is changing and, if you take the global average, it is all in one direction,” said Professor David Vaughan, a geologist at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge.

One of the clearest signals of climate change is the rapid loss of floating sea ice in the Arctic, which has been monitored by satellites since the late 1970s and by nuclear submarines since the beginning of the cold war, said Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, one of the first civilians to travel under the Arctic sea ice on a nuclear submarine.

The sea ice is retreating faster and further than at any time on record and this year it probably reached an all-time record minimum in terms of volume and a close second in terms of surface area. On current projections, if the current rate of loss continues, there could be virtually no September sea ice as early as 2015, Professor Wadhams said at a briefing held at the Science Media Centre in London.

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