2007 will go down in history as the year the Arctic icecap collapsed. The NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Date Center) is making available real time images of the Arctic Ice Cap which show the icecap shrinking dramatically below it's normal minimum summer area. Here is the report for Sept 10, 2007:
Sea ice extent continues to decline, and is now at 4.24 million square kilometers (1.63 million square miles), falling yet further below the previous record absolute minimum of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) that occurred on September 20–21, 2005.
Record low icecap extent on Sept 10, 2007
More below ...
The image below shows the current (Sept 10, 2007) extent of the Arctic Ice Cap. The magenta line indicates the normal extent of the icecap at it's summer minimum for the last 30 years. As you can see the current icecap area is far below the normal area. And it's still shrinking!
The graph shows the current area of the Arctic icecap compared to previous years. The 2007 icecap is reduced by 40% from it's normal area!
View the historical data using Google Earth
Check it out in Google Earth. Open this file in Google Earth to see a time based animation of the icecap's extent. Use the time slider to see the normal Arctic summers from 1978 to 2006. This animation was obtained from the NSIDC Google Earth page. Take a look to see this and much other data about the state of the cryosphere.
Real time View of the Arctic
You can also see the extent of the Arctic ice cap in real time directly in Google Earth. The image below is being updated everyday.
Opening of the Northwest Passage
The retreat of the icecap has opened up the fabled Northwest Passage for the first time!
On August 21, 2007 the Northwest Passage became open to ships without the need of an icebreaker. According to Nalan Koc of the Norwegian Polar Institute this is the first time since they began keeping records in 1972.
Just a week after Canada and the U.S. agreed to disagree over the ownership of the Northwest Passage, this summer's record melt of Arctic sea ice has unlocked the fabled polar shipping route more completely than ever before, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center has announced.
"It's open," Mark Serreze, a senior scientist with research institute based in Boulder, Colo., said in an interview Tuesday. "It's unprecedented. Theoretically you could take a ship from Tokyo through the Northwest Passage to Boston. Not an easy sail, not a Sunday cruise, but it has started to happen."
Like the projected melting of the glaciers in Glacier National Park in the next 20 years, this latest event is unprecedented and adds to the evidence that global warming is happening much faster than anyone expected.
Rapid melting not just in the Arctic
Like the Arctic, the glaciers of north america are melting at unprecendented rates. Listen to Dan Fagre, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey discuss the fate of the glacier's in Glacier National Park.
"The namesake glaciers for Glacier National Park are disappearing rapidly," he said. "Especially in the last several decades. These glaciers that numbered 150 when the park was first formed are now less than 27." More than 7,000 years ago, glaciers 900 to 1,500 meters thick covered this landscape. The constant ice flow carved out these jagged peaks and deep valleys. Now, Dan Fagre says the remaining glaciers are melting at an alarming rate. He blames global warming. "One glacier by itself can not invoke climate change. But, when you have all the glaciers in almost all of the mountain ranges of the entire globe responding the same way, then you know you have global phenomena. And in this case, the glaciers are responding to warming."
Fagre says if the current melting trend continues all of the glaciers will be gone within 20 years.
The Park formerly know as Glacier
By the way, I was in Glacier National Park this summer and I could not find a single reference to the rapidly melting glaciers in the park bookstores. When I asked a park ranger if they had any books on global warming or on it's effect on Glacier, I was told that for the last 7 years, they have been forbidden to discuss this with tourists because it is controversial!
Amazingly, the park bookstore does not carry a single book on the glaciers of the park. It has apparently has been purged of all but the most cursory references to the glaciers in Glacier National Park. This is apparently intentional to avoid having to admit that the glaciers no longer exist they way they used to and that they will in fact soon be only a memory.
Sobering to realize that the very weather is not controlled solely by the whims of the gods, but also by the accidents of man.