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Arctic could be ice-free in 30 years

by David Masters
April 6, 2009

Arctic ice is melting so fast that the region could be 80% ice-free within 30 years, according to new research into the impact of global warming.

Previous scientific estimates said an ice-free Arctic would take until at least 2100.

However, the new joint study by the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington brings this date forward 60 years to 2040.

“The Arctic is changing faster than anticipated,” said James Overland, co-author of the study.

“The amount of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice at the end of summer by [2040] could be only about 1 million square kilometres, or about 620,000 square miles,” Overland said.

“That’s compared to today’s ice extent of 4.6 million square kilometres, or 2.8 million square miles.”

Melting ice is a significant problem for the temperature of the earth as the white surface of ice reflects sunlight back into space.

When ice melts to become dark ocean water, the warmth of sunlight is absorbed into those oceans, increasing the temperature of the oceans and the planet.

“The Arctic is often called the Earth’s refrigerator because the sea ice helps cool the planet by reflecting the sun’s radiation back into space,” said Muyin Wang, co-author with Overland.

“With less ice, the sun’s warmth is instead absorbed by the open water, contributing to warmer temperatures in the water and the air.”

This week US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is hosting a conference of government officials and climate change scientists from 47 countries to discuss the future of the north and south poles.

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