Washington, May 1 : New calculations by researchers at University of Colorado at Boulder, US, has lead them to forecast a three-in-five chance of record low Arctic sea ice in 2008, because of continued warming temperatures and a preponderance of younger, thinner ice.
The forecast by the researchers is based on satellite data and temperature records, indicating there is a 59 percent chance that the annual minimum sea ice record will be broken this fall for the third time in five years.
Arctic sea ice declined by roughly 10 percent in the past decade, culminating in a record 2007 minimum ice cover of 1.59 million square miles. That broke the 2005 record by 460,000 miles.
"The current Arctic ice cover is thinner and younger than at any previous time in our recorded history, and this sets the stage for rapid melt and a new record low," said Research Associate Sheldon Drobot.
According to Drobot, overall, 63 percent of the Arctic ice cover is younger than average, and only 2 percent is older than average.
"Changes in Arctic sea ice - defined as the area of an ocean covered by at least 15 percent ice - is one of the more compelling and obvious signs of climate change," he said.
Continued Arctic sea ice declines likely will have negative effects on various types of wildlife, including polar bears, walruses and seals, he added.
"For humans, larger ice-free zones in the Arctic region for longer periods offer potential for cheaper and faster merchant shipping between North America and Europe," said Drobot.
The declining ice may well open up the Northwest Passage, for example, which runs through the Bering Strait, the Chukchi Sea, the Beaufort Sea and through the Canadian Archipelago to the Atlantic Ocean.
According to aerospace engineering Research Professor Jim Maslanik, based on the current sea ice conditions, the Northern Sea Route - the shipping lane from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the Russian coastline - might also open up this summer.
"It also is quite possible that extensive ice-free conditions could develop at or near the North Pole," he said.