August 27, 2012 15:33 ET

Arctic Sea Ice Cracks Record Low, and More to Go

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Aug. 27, 2012) - The Arctic sea ice extent has hit its lowest extent since satellite records began, according to data from the IARC-JAXA Information System and the U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center. More melting this year is likely, as the lowest sea ice extent has typically been recorded near the end of September, a month away from now. The shrinking sea ice is one of the most visible early impacts of global climate change.

"Record-breaking ice minimums are becoming the new normal", says Clive Tesar of WWF's Global Arctic Programme. "We're breaking records on a regular basis as the sea ice continues its decline. A week ago in Grise Fiord, Canada's northernmost community, we saw an ice-free horizon that astonished local people. This ice-loss is affecting Arctic life, and the lives of people around the world. As this new record shows, we have little time left to take effective action to help Arctic life adapt."

Ice loss has been shown to have negative effects on southern populations of polar bears. It has been linked to the deaths of walrus, and has led to new species moving into the Arctic. For Arctic peoples, the shrinking ice cover has made some traditional cross-ice travel routes more treacherous, and has led to increased erosion threatening coastal villages. The ice loss also has global impacts, warping weather patterns across the northern hemisphere.

The ice loss is also attracting the attention of industrial interests such as oil and gas development and shipping. WWF is concerned that new developments in the region should take into account the ability of already stressed Arctic systems to absorb more change.

This summer, researchers and WWF staff are taking part in the "Sailing to Siku" expedition to the Last Ice Area between northern Greenland and Canada where the last summer sea ice is projected to remain longest. Scientists on the expedition are assessing climate-related changes to this little-studied, but increasingly important region. This in one of several WWF projects to encourage resilience to climate change in the Arctic. WWF is also working of projects to reduce global carbon emissions.


  • The Arctic sea ice minimum extent is generally reached at the end of September.
  • In the summer of 2007, Arctic sea ice extent set a record low in early August-more than a month before the end of the melt season. That September, the preferred northern navigation route through the Northwest Passage opened. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), on September 16, 2007, sea ice extent dropped to 4.13 million square kilometers (1.59 million square miles) - 38 percent below average and 24 percent below the 2005 record.
  • "Sailing to Siku" is a Canon Europe sponsored expedition to research and assess future management options for the Last Ice Area - the region in Greenland and Canada where sea ice is projected to persist in 2040. Expedition members are visiting communities along the route to introduce the Last Ice Area project to local people, and invite their guidance and expertise.
  • More information on WWF's climate change mitigation work can be accessed at: http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/climate_carbon_energy/
  • IARC-JAXA Information System is a collaboration between the International Arctic Research Center [University of Alaska Fairbanks] and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency [JAXA]. It conducts satellite image analysis and computer modeling.
  • The national Snow and Ice Data centre is a US government organization that collects and analyzes data relating to snow and ice, particularly in polar regions.

About the Last Ice Area

The Last Ice Area is a new WWF project designed to assess the best future management options for the area of Arctic summer sea ice projected to remain the longest. WWF is helping collate and conduct research in this area, and connecting this research to the question of how this area may best be managed in the future to the benefit of both species and people.


About WWF's Global Arctic Programme

WWF is working with its many partners - governments, business and communities - across the Arctic to combat these threats and preserve the region's rich biodiversity. The WWF Global Arctic Programme has coordinated WWF's work in the Arctic since 1992. We work through offices in six Arctic countries, with experts in circumpolar issues like governance, climate change, fisheries, oil and gas and polar bears.


About WWF

WWF is creating solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet, helping people and nature thrive.


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