New research shows that the Arctic sea ice continues to retreat and is far below the numbers from 1979 to 2006. The Northeast Passage could be traversed without the need for icebreakers.
Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, the University of Bremen and the University of Hamburg have determined that the extent of Arctic sea ice shrank to roughly 4.7 million square kilometres this September.
According to a joint statement, sea ice in the Arctic is considered a critical element in climate processes – and a valuable early-warning system for global warning. Although this September’s extent of sea ice does not represent a new record low, the amount of ice loss is still massive.
“This year’s sea ice extent is again on a very low level: the observed September value of the past eleven years has consistently been lower than in any of the previous years,” explained Marcel Nicolaus from the Alfred Wegener Institute.
While the exact date and value of the minimum sea ice extent in 2017 can only be determined in the coming weeks and the amount of sea ice is subject to natural fluctuations, the scientists argue that the long-term decline is obvious. For comparison, summertime minimums in the 1970s and 1980s were some seven million square kilometres.
The satellite data is particularly important for the shipping industry, said Gunnar Spreen from the University of Bremen. “This summer, the Northeast Passage along the Russian coast could be used without the need for icebreakers, and many ships also used the Northwest Passage.”
Image credit: Esther Horvath via Alfred Wegener Institute