Arctic icecap 'gone in a decade'
Experts predict North Pole meltdown will see ice-free summers in 10 years.
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2009 05:23 GMT

The researchers said the 450-km route they trekked was covered mostly by first-year ice [AFP]

The North Pole could turn into an open sea during the summer within 10 years, new research by scientists suggests.

The Catlin Arctic Survey team led by Pen Hadow, a veteran polar explorer, measured the thickness of the ice as it sledged and hiked for 73 days through 450km of the northern part of the Beaufort Sea earlier this year.

The findings released on Wednesday were based on 6,000 measurements and observations of the ice that showed the region was covered by mostly first-year ice only about 1.8 metres deep, and which will melt next summer.

The region has traditionally contained thicker multi-year ice which does not melt as rapidly.

'More vulnerable'

The raw data collected from March to May and analysed by Britain's Cambridge University produced some stark predictions about the state of the ice cap.

"In about 10 years, the Arctic ice will be considered as open sea"

Peter Wadhams, Cambridge University

Professor Peter Wadhams, part of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the university, said the multi-year ice was "shrinking back more rapidly" in a "concrete example of global change in action".

"With a larger part of the region now first-year ice, it is clearly more vulnerable," he said.

Wadhams said on Wednesday that the Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the new consensus that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within 20 years, and that much of the decrease will happen within 10 years.

"In about 10 years, the Arctic ice will be considered as open sea," he said.

The results come as negotiators prepare to meet in Copenhagen in December to draft a global climate pact.

'Faster than thought'

Martin Sommerkorn, a senior climate change adviser for conservation group WWF's international Arctic programme, said the ice melt in the region that holds a central position in the earth's climate system was happening "faster than we thought".

The team spent 73 days taking 6,000 measurements and observations [EPA]
"Remove the Arctic ice cap and we are left with a very different and much warmer world," he said.

"This could lead to flooding affecting one quarter of the world's population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emission from massive carbon pools and extreme global weather changes."

Sommerkorn added that the findings provided another urgent call for action to world leaders ahead of the December summit "to rapidly and effectively curb" global greenhouse gas emissions.

Global warming has raised the stakes in the scramble for sovereignty in the Arctic because shrinking polar ice could someday open resource development and new shipping lanes.

The rapid melting of ice has raised speculation that the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans could one day become a regular shipping lane.

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