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Arctic sea ice cracks record low, and more to go

28 August 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, but it will certainly have wider implications.

Rod Downie, Polar Programme Manager for WWF-UK said: “It's likely that the loss of summer sea ice will result in dramatic changes to Arctic ecosystems, and have a profound effect on traditional lifestyles. Thousands of years of evolution have prepared Arctic species like the polar bear, walrus and narwhal for life on and around the sea-ice. But with the speed of change that we are now witnessing in the Arctic, it is uncertain whether ice-dependent species will be able to adapt fast enough.”

The ice loss is also attracting the attention of industrial interests such as oil and gas development and shipping. WWF-UK is concerned that new developments in the region may not take into account the ability of already stressed Arctic systems to absorb more change, and is calling on the UK Government to show national and global leadership in the urgent transition away from fossil fuels to a low carbon economy.


Facts:
• 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 Centre (NSIDC), on September 16, 2007, sea ice extent dropped to 4.13 million square kilometres (1.59 million square miles)—38 per cent below average and 24 percent below the 2005 record.
• 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 Centre [University of Alaska Fairbanks] and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency [JAXA]. It conducts satellite image analysis and computer modelling.
• The national Snow and Ice Data centre is a US government organization that collects and analyses data relating to snow and ice, particularly in polar regions.

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. www.panda.org/arctic

About WWF:
• WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organisations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

For more information:
• Cara Clancy, Press Officer WWF-UK
Tel: 01483 412 305, Email: cclancy@wwf.org.uk

Fish eye view of Arctic sea ice

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