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Global warming: Geographers eye future Arctic shipping routes

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The fastest navigation routes for ships seeking to cross the Arctic Ocean by mid-century include the Northwest Passage (on the left) and over the North Pole (center), in addition to the Northern Sea Route (on the right).

New study looks at Arctic sea ice projections and also explores geopolitical issues

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new study helps quantify some of recent speculation about shipping routes through the Arctic, indicating that, in 40 years, normal seagoing vessels will be able to  navigate previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic Ocean without the help of icebreakers.

The Arctic ice sheet is expected to thin to the point that polar icebreakers will be able to navigate between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by making a straight shot over the North Pole, according to UCLA geographers Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson. Continue reading

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Arctic sea ice hits record low for August

Massive storm swirls over the region in early August

An unusual storm over the Arctic coincided with a period of rapid ice melt in early August.

Arctic sea ice is trending toward a new low. Graph courtesy National Snow and Ice Data Center.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With rapid melting in early August, it seem almost inevitable that Arctic sea ice will dip to a new record low sometime in September, barring a major turnaround in the weather.

Extremely rapid melting was observed between Aug. 4 and Aug. 8, about the same time an unusually strong storm formed in the region, but scientists said they’re uncertain whether the storm contributed to the rapid decline, according to a mid-month update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Continue reading

Global warming: Arctic sea ice decline continues in August

Arctic sea ice still trending down.

Northwest passage open for shipping

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The August sea ice extent in the Arctic reached the second lowest level for the month and tracked near record low levels for much of the summer. The latests readings underscore the continued decline in Arctic ice cover, according to the monthly update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Arctic sea ice extent w  ill probably reach its lowest level in the next few weeks before starting to reform in the cold autumn and winter days ahead.

Average ice extent for August 2011 was 5.52 million square kilometers (2.13 million square miles). This is 160,000 square kilometers (61,800 square miles) above the previous record low for the month, set in August 2007, and 2.15 million square kilometers (830,000 square miles), or 28 percent below the average for 1979 to 2000. Sea ice coverage remained below normal everywhere except the East Greenland Sea. In addition, several large areas of open water (polynyas) have opened within the ice pack.

On August 31, 2011 Arctic sea ice extent was 4.63 million square kilometers (1.79 million square miles). This is 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) higher than the previous record low for the same day of the year, set in 2007.

As of September 5, ice extent had fallen below the minimum ice extents in September 2010 and 2008 (previously the third- and second-lowest minima in the satellite record). If ice stopped declining in extent today it would be the second-lowest minimum extent in the satellite record.

Conditions in context
In August, sunlight wanes in the Arctic and the sea ice decline starts to slow down. Although the decline slowed somewhat during August, ice extent retreated at a faster pace than average, at a pace of 67,700 square kilometers (26,100 square miles) per day. In comparison, the average rate of decline for August 1979 to 2000 was 53,700 square kilometers (20,700 square miles) per day.

Air temperatures were 1 to 4 degrees Celsius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average (relative to the 1981 to 2010 climatology) over the Arctic Ocean (measured approximately 1000 meters above the surface). The strongest anomalies were over the Northwest Passage region. High pressure persisted over much of the central Arctic Ocean, associated with a wind pattern that helped to push ice from the Beaufort Sea westward into the Chukchi Sea. This may have slowed some ice loss in the Chukchi Sea region. However, the wind pattern also transported ice into open waters warmed during the summer, fostering melt.

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