Friday, August 17, 2007

Arctic ice seen shrinking much faster than forecast

Beating forecasts by more than 40 years, Arctic sea ice has shrunk to about 5.31 million sq. km, the smallest area seen since satellite observations began in 1978, Japanese state-run agencies reported Thursday.

The ice is melting because a stagnant low pressure system over Siberia has caused warm air to flow into the Arctic region from over land at a time when the winter ice is relatively thin, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

In mid-September, when the ice is usually at its smallest in any year, it could shrink to as little as 4.5 million sq. km, a threshold the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted would be reached in 2050, they said.

"If the reduction continues at this pace, it is feared that global warming will accelerate and bring about changes to the climate system, such as frequent abnormal weather," said JAMSTEC, based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

According to the two agencies' analyses based on observations using satellites and ocean buoys, the ice Wednesday shrank further than the previous record, logged on Sept. 22, 2005, of about 5.32 million sq. km.

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