Shrinking ice cover

As of September 5, the Arctic sea ice cover was the lowest that has ever been recorded. The sea ice cover was below 4 million sq km (1.5 million sq miles). The Arctic sea ice floats in the water body around the North Pole region. The size of the sea ice cover has been recorded by scientists since 1979.  The previous lowest recorded ice cover was 4.17 million sq km (1.6 million sq miles) which was measured five years ago. The ice cover in the Arctic melts and decreases in the summer months, and it refreezes and increases in the winter months. Usually, the largest sea ice cover over the Arctic is in the month of March, and the lowest is in the month of September. Therefore, scientists are expecting the ice cover to shrink even more this month.

The rate of ice loss in August this year was 91,700 sq km (35,400 sq miles) per day. That means ice cover that is approximately the size of Portugal was being lost per day! This is the fastest rate ever observed. The average rate of ice loss for the month of August has been 55,100 sq km (21,300 sq miles) per day.

The Arctic sea ice is very important. It acts like our planet’s air conditioner and helps control Earth’s climate. The sea ice reflects back into space a large percentage of sunlight that reaches the ice. The ocean surface without the ice cover would absorb a large percentage of the sunlight, which in turn would make the water warmer, and melt more ice.

Many scientists blame global warming for the faster rate of ice melt in the North Pole region. The Earth has gotten warmer over the last 100 years. This could be something that the Earth is naturally doing, but many scientists believe that the Earth is warmer because of an increase in greenhouse gases created by some of our activities (such as driving cars, burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, and much more).

There are five countries (Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the United States) that border the Arctic region and lay claims to parts of it. They all want a larger ownership of the seabed below the Arctic Ocean.  It is believed that this seabed contains large amounts of oil, minerals, and natural gas. Another reason is that shipping routes will open up due to melting ice in this region. There will also be more opportunities for fishing. One organization called Greenpeace is protesting against countries digging for oil in the region and wants the region to be left alone. Some famous Hollywood actors (including Robert Redford and Penelope Cruz) are supporting its cause.

What does it look like at the North Pole? Here is a video from the North Pole shot in the summer of 2011.




Did you know?

We do not yet know for sure who the first person to reach the North Pole was. There have been several claims, including the following:
- Frederick Cook on April 21,1908
- Robert Peary on April 6, 1909
- Richard Byrd on May 9, 1926 (by flying over the North Pole)
However, all of these are disputed. The first claim that is accepted is that Roald Amundsen flew over the North Pole on May 12, 1926.

Image Credits:  National Snow and Ice Data Center for the Arctic images