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Russian Shores and Rapid Melting of Arctic Sea Ice

69.3N 161.2E

June 16th, 2013 Category: Climate Change MODISAqua

Russia – June 15th, 2013

Strong warming in the northern high latitudes is causing Arctic sea ice to rapidly melt. It’s one of several changes in the Arctic region, including increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet and permafrost in northern Russia and Alaska, which pose serious risks for the world as a whole. This image focuses on ice along the northern shores of Russia.

The area and thickness of Arctic sea ice fluctuates from year to year, and is affected by weather patterns, ocean circulation and other natural influences. However, the ice on the surface of the Arctic Ocean has been diminishing for the past 30 years, in both area and thickness. Over the past 10 to 15 years, it has begun to disappear faster. Recently, it has fallen to a record low (the previous record being in September 2007). Since 1980, the ice has roughly halved in area, and the volume of ice has dropped to just a quarter of what it was.

White ice reflects much more sunlight back to space than does ocean water, which absorbs incoming sunlight readily. As the area of sea ice decreases and the area of exposed ocean water increases, more sunlight is absorbed, heating the surface of the water and the atmosphere above it. This strengthens the Arctic region warming trend – average temperatures of the high northern latitudes are rising at double the global average temperature increase.

The Arctic sea ice is declining much more quickly than scientists expected only a decade ago. It is very likely that, with the continued decline in sea ice that has occurred over several decades, we’ve already crossed the point of no return and that we’ll have an ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer at some point in the near future. Scientists now consider this could happen by 2030 or even earlier (click here for more information).

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