This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer at the institute.
SAN FRANCISCO — For the past few years, vanishing northern sea ice has been a theme of many talks and posters here at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which draws about 15,000 scientists to the Moscone Center during the weeklong conference.
At a press conference here on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007, scientists revealed that the ice on top of the northernmost ocean took a punch in the summer of 2007 that might be a knockout blow.
In 1980, the dense ice that floats on the Arctic Ocean like a large, moving jigsaw puzzle took up about the same area as the entire Lower 48 states; in September 2007, it was about as big as the U.S. east of the Mississippi River, said Don Perovich of the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire.
The ice loss in 2007, 23 percent greater than the previous record in 2005, has some scientists here predicting that the northern sea ice will vanish in summer as soon as five years from now. Perovich agreed that one of the greatest environmental changes people have ever seen might be close at hand.
“I used to say that sometime in my children’s lifetimes (sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean would disappear for half the year), but now I might see it,” said Perovich, who is in his 50s.