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Satellites witness “extreme” shrinking of Arctic ice cover

The sea ice that covers the North Pole and the Arctic has shrunk by one million square kilometers over the last year, according to satellite images released by the European Space Agency (ESA). Meanwhile, Greenland’s ice cap is slipping into the sea at an ‘extraordinary’ rate. 

Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) are alarmed by the rapid and drastic reduction in Arctic ice cover that has taken place in just one year. A reduction of one million square kilometers represents a ten-fold increase when compared with the average annual reduction of 100, 000 square kilometers observed over the last decade, according to ESA. “The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need to understand the processes involved better”, said Leif Toudal Pederson of the Danish National Space Centre.

While Arctic ice re-forms during the winter months after having melted in the summer months, the overall rate at which the ice is shrinking has reached unprecedented proportions, ESA said. Pederson predicts that the North-West passage, which historically has been closed to conventional sea-faring vessels such as container ships and oil tankers, may become navigable sooner than expected, bringing with it the possibility of new and more rapid trade routes between Europe and Asia.

The Greenland ice cap is also rapidly melting, triggering earthquakes as chunks several cubic kilometers in size break off into the ocean, according to press reports. Robert Correll, chairman of Arctic Climate Impact Assessment at the Heinz Centre in Washington DC, reports that large lakes and rivers of melting water have formed beneath the glacier which forms the Greenland ice cap, causing it to move into the sea at 15 kilometers per year. “That means that this one glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one year to provide drinking water for a city the size of London for a year”, Correll said.

In February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that global sea levels may rise between 20cm and 60cm over the 21st Century. But these figures are “conservative” and based on old data, and some scientists predict the rise may approach two meters, Correll said. A sea-level rise of this magnitude would result in potentially disastrous flooding along much of Europe’s coastline, in particular the UK and Ireland, according to flood maps external, based on NASA satellite data. (