Thursday, September 14, 2006

Arctic Ice continues to melt

The Arctic Ice is melting rapidly according to a new study by NASA. The study reveals that in the last two years, sea ice is shrinking on the surface of Arctic waters to record low levels. From NASA:
"This amount of Arctic sea ice reduction the past two consecutive winters has not taken place before during the 27 years satellite data has been available," said Joey Comiso, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "In the past, sea ice reduction in winter was significantly lower per decade compared to summer sea ice retreat. What's remarkable is that we've witnessed sea ice reduction at six percent per year over just the last two winters, most likely a result of warming due to greenhouse gases."

... According to Comiso, if the winter ice retreat continues, the effect could be very profound, especially for marine animals. "The seasonal ice regions in the Arctic are among the most biologically productive regions in the world," he said. "Some of the richest fisheries are found in the region, in part because of sea ice. Sea ice provides melt-water in spring that floats because of low density. This melt-water layer is considered by biologists as the ideal layer for phytoplankton growth because it does not sink, and there is plenty of sunlight reaching it to enable photosynthesis. Plankton are at the bottom of the food web. If their concentration goes down, animals at all tropics level would be deprived of a basic source of food."

In addition to climate warming, other factors can contribute to the observed retreat of winter sea ice. Hard blowing winds can compact ice, causing it to contract, making it thicker, but covering a smaller area. Wind direction may blow ice toward warmer waters, causing it to melt. Other processes can also affect sea ice, by way of warmer oceans to the south spinning up cyclones that will introduce warmer temperatures than normal that melt ice.

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