Within a decade, the Arctic could possibly see summer days that are ice-free, a British scientist recently warned.
Dr. Seymour Laxon, at University College London's Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, told BBC Radio 4 that early satellite data suggests Arctic ice is melting at a rate even faster than scientists had previously warned.
By combining data from NASA's IceSat with preliminary results from European Space Agency satellite CryoSat-2, Laxon and his team found a 50% greater rate of ice loss than most past estimates. The preliminary data suggested that since 2004, the Arctic saw an annual ice loss of up to 900 cubic km a year, reports BBC News.
Laxon told The Guardian, "Very soon we may experience the iconic moment when, one day in the summer, we look at satellite images and see no sea ice coverage in the Arctic, just open water."
The work by Laxon's team is noteworthy because they can now measure a decline in the thickness of the ice, while past measurements focused on the melting area. Laxon explained to BBC Radio 4 that they got a sense of the total amount of ice in the Arctic, and saw "a very strong decline not just in the extent, but also in the thickness" of the ice.
Laxon found the CryoSat measurements were accurate enough to determine volume decline, and added in the radio interview that he was "reasonably" confident in the NASA measurements, although there were fewer on the ground measurements to check them. The findings are preliminary, and their next step will be to place the data into models for an accurate forecast.
He told BBC News, "We have to be cautious until our data has been properly analysed as part of a climate model, but this does suggest that the Arctic might be ice-free in summer for a day at least by the end of the decade."
The findings may carry broader implications, as a melting Arctic affects other regions of the world. University College London's Professor Chris Rapley told The Guardian, "The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to the impact of global warming ... It is telling us that something highly significant is happening to Earth."
Last month, NASA scientists reported notable acceleration in melting from Greenland -- 97 percent of the region's ice sheet surface had thawed. Although the specific melting event could be part of a natural variation, NASA's Tom Wagner told HuffPost, "We have abundant evidence that Greenland is losing ice, probably because of global warming, and it's significantly contributing to sea level rise."
As the ice melts, Shell is pursuing Arctic drilling plans, to the ire of activists. Paul McCartney blogged on HuffPost, "As the ice retreats, the oil giants are moving in. Instead of seeing the melting as a grave warning to humanity, they're eyeing the previously inaccessible oil beneath the seabed at the top of the world. They're exploiting the disappearance of the ice to drill for the very same fuel that caused the melting in the first place."
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) recently conducted a hearing to discuss a stronger Coast Guard presence as melting ice opens up the Arctic to new activity. According to the Associated Press, she mentioned other models suggesting an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summers after 2030, and stated, "This is an extraordinary change on our planet and we must be ready for it."