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Scientists Document Accelerated Melting of Arctic Ice

The Arctic Ocean's frozen surface has been called the northern hemisphere's "summertime air conditioner". These vast ice fields have always cooled the summer winds blowing southwards, and are important in keeping the northern hemisphere from heating up too much.

Normally, a part of the ice melts in the summer and re-forms in winter. But since the 1970s, nearly 30 percent of the Arctic sea-ice has melted away in summer. At this rate, some believe the ice could completely melt away one summer before the end of the century.

NASA researcher Dr. Waleed Abdalati says, "In 2005, it's the lowest on record. We've watched that [ice] retreat year after year. There's really something going on."

This year, 1.3 million square kilometers more ice has melted than in an average year. Less ice means less white surface to reflect the sun's heat away from Earth, and more dark open water to absorb that heat. This, in turn, speeds up the melting process for the remaining ice.

Some scientists theorize that as the water temperature increases, so does the likelihood of violent weather, such as hurricanes.

"So this is an unstable systems," said Dr. Abdalati.

An unstable system that has an immediate effect on those who live in the Arctic region. One whale hunter made a surprising discovery when he checked the whale meat in his ice cellar.

"The skin and the blubber should be frozen solid. It's thawing out already."

In the past, any ground in the North Pole deeper than 1.2 meters was frozen solid. The hunter's cellar is twice that depth -- 2.4 meters underground.

The Arctic ice protects the shore from the open sea. As that ice retreats, villages must move to avoid getting washed into the ocean.

The retreating ice also affects the wildlife. Warmer weather birds, such as the black guillemots and puffins, are migrating farther north. And polar bears are starving as their hunting ground, the frozen ocean surface, is shrinking.

For most of us, evidence of a warmer world can be found in hotter summers and more violent weather. Those living on the frozen fields, in the "summer air conditioner," can watch their world melt away before their eyes.