News / Science & Technology

Arctic Sea-Ice Volume Continues to Decline

Sea ice floats within Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, undated handout photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Sea ice floats within Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, undated handout photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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The thickness of Arctic sea ice continues to decline, according to the European Space Agency (ESA)

The conclusion is based on three consecutive years of measurements by ESA’s CryoSat satellite mission. Scientists often measure another factor, sea-ice extent, but ice thickness, the agency says, is a “more accurate” measure of the changes taking place at the top of the world.

Professor Andrew Shephers of the University of Leeds in England told an audience at the Living Planet Symposium in Edinburgh, Scotland Wednesday that CryoSat “continues to provide clear evidence of diminishing Arctic sea ice.”

“From the satellite’s measurements, we can see that some parts of the ice pack ice have thinned more rapidly than others, but there has been a decrease in the volume of winter and summer ice over the past three years”, he said. “The volume of the sea ice at the end of last winter was less than 15,000 cubic kilometers, which is lower than any other year going into summer and indicates less winter growth than usual.”

While it seems unlikely that a record minimum of sea-ice extent will be set this September, the thinner ice at the start of summer could mean that the actual volume of ice may reach a new low, according to ESA.

“Readings from CryoSat in October, when the ice starts to refreeze, will confirm this either way,” said Rachel Tilling, doctoral student at University College London, who is working with the CryoSat data.

CryoSat is also delivering important results on land ice formation. Recently, it provided evidence of a huge flood under the Antarctic ice sheet. New measurements combined with older data from NASA’s ICESat mapped a large crater that formed as the overlying ice sank to fill the gap left by lake water that drained away.

The map revealed that about six cubic kilometers of water had escaped from under the ice, probably straight into the ocean, between 2007 and 2008.

CryoSat is expected to continue providing data until 2017.

Watch an animation showing the variations in ice thickness over time:

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Comment Sorting
by: Honeybee Blaze Frolics from: Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
September 17, 2013 7:26 PM
Arctic sea ice shrank to a record low in 2012, and second place was in 2007. check out climate reality project dot org and learn more about CO 2 emissions and the dangers of air, land, water pollution! I just turn 53 years old and I never dreamed in my life-time I would witness such drastic global climate changes...but feel that after the nuclear accident in 1986 Chernobyl had played a role in the catastrophic side affects of nuclear meltdown!

by: drLenin from: USA
September 17, 2013 5:04 PM
If the pace of sea ice loss keeps up, the Arctic could be nearly ice-free in summer in just a few decades.

by: Bruce from: Canada
September 16, 2013 2:10 PM
Antarctic Sea Ice just set an all-time record for most ice.

by: ReduceGHGs from: Oregon
September 13, 2013 11:32 AM
The biosphere is experiencing a nearly global warm up and meltdown. There's no credible doubt, we are the cause. Changing the ways we generate and use energy is the only rational option. Contact your reps in Congress. Insist they work harder to reduce global emissions. Our future generations are at risk.

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