After the Arctic sea ice extent hit its second lowest size on record this summer—or lowest (depending on the source)—comes another climate change shocker: in the past six years Canada’s millennia-old ice shelves have shed nearly half their size. One ice shelf—the Serson shelf—is almost entirely gone, while another—the Ward Hunt shelf—has split into two distinct shelves. The ice shelves have lost 3 billion tons in this year alone.
“These unique and massive geographical features that we consider to be part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back,” Derek Mueller, a researcher with Carleton University, says in a press release. Mueller attributes the ice loss to warming temperatures, while cracks in their foundations expose them to open water, quickening the melt.
The Serson ice shelf measured 120 square kilometers until it split in two in 2008. Today the two parts equal only 32 square kilometers. The Ward Hunt shelf split into two this summer for the first time, while the Ellesmere Island ice shelves have shed 480 square kilometers of ice in six years.
“The ice shelves were formed and sustained in a different climate than what we have now. As they disappear, it implies we are returning to conditions unseen in the Arctic for thousands of years,” Mueller adds.
(09/12/2011) Arctic sea ice cover fell to its lowest level on record, report researchers from the University of Bremen.
(09/01/2011) Recent, unprecedented walrus haul-outs and increased instances of long-distance swims by polar bears show the direct impacts on wildlife of dwindling Arctic sea ice from climate change. These threatened species also face the prospect of offshore drilling in the Arctic after the Obama Administration recently approved a number of plans to move forward on oil exploration. At least 8,000 walruses hauled out on an Alaskan beach along the Chukchi Sea on August 17. Only a day before, the U.S. Geological Survey announced it would begin tagging walruses near Point Lay, Alaska to study how a lack of sea ice is affecting the species
(08/08/2011) Less than a year and a half after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration has bucked warnings from environmentalists to grant preliminary approval to oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, to drill off the Arctic coast. Exploratory drilling will occur just north of the western edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the Beaufort Sea, home to bowhead and beluga whales, seals, walruses, polar bears, and a wide variety of migrating birds.