Washington, June 21 : Scientists have warned that the North Pole might be free of ice for the first time in history this summer, thanks to a dramatic increase in Arctic warming.
According to a report in National Geographic News, firsthand observations and satellite images show that the immediate area around the geographic North Pole is now mostly thin new ice that forms each year during the winter freeze.
Such ice is much more prone to melting during the summer months than perennial, or multiyear, ice, which is thick and dense ice that has lasted through multiple cycles of thawing and refreezing.
"I would say the ice in the vicinity of the North Pole is primed for melting, and an ice-free North Pole is a good possibility," said Sheldon Drobot, a climatologist at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado in the US.
"We're actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time (in history)," David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, told National Geographic News.
The melt would be mostly symbolic-thicker ice, pushed against the Canadian continental shelf by weather and Earth's rotation, would still survive the summer.
Though recent models suggest that the Arctic won't see its first completely ice-free summer until somewhere between 2013 and 2030, this summer's forecast-and unusual early melting events all around the Arctic-serve as a dire warning of how quickly the polar regions are being affected by climate change.
Models predict that the regions will see temperature increases roughly three times as quickly as the rest of the globe because of an effect known as ice albedo feedback, which occurs when highly reflective ice gives way to dark water.
The North Pole's current plight stems from a much more startling reduction in sea ice that took place last summer. That extensive melt shattered all previous records and destroyed a significant portion of the Arctic's multiyear ice. "We lost 65 percent of the ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere all in one year," said Barber. "So it was a whopping decrease. We didn't even think it was possible for the system to lose so much ice all at once," he added.
According to scientists, the record loss last year was due to a combination of warm ocean currents, fluke winds, and unusually sunny weather.
An unusually cold winter had raised hopes for a recovery, but much of the ice that formed froze later than usual, ending up so thin that it has already started to break up.