Ice Thining Graphic - National Snow and Ice Data CenterResearchers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Washington Seattle have completed a comprehensive survey that shows dramatic Arctic sea ice thinning between the years of 2004 to 2008. The once dominant and thicker multi-year ice is being supplanted by thinner seasonal ice.

Data for the study was provided by NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat). Satellite measurements show a reduction of around seven inches a year, with an overall loss of 2.2 feet during the study period of four years. The area covered by the thicker, multi-year ice has been reduced by 42 percent.

Ron Kwok of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says of the study, “Ice volume allows us to calculate annual ice production and gives us an inventory of the freshwater and total ice mass stored in Arctic sea ice. Even in years when the overall extent of sea ice remains stable or grows slightly, the thickness and volume of the ice cover is continuing to decline, making the ice more vulnerable to continued shrinkage. Our data will help scientists better understand how fast the volume of Arctic ice is decreasing and how soon we might see a nearly ice-free Arctic in the summer.”

Increased Coast Guard Interest in the Arctic

The fabled Northwest Passage is becoming a reality and in recent testimony to Congress, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen described efforts being made by the agency to evaluate their ability to operate in the severe conditions found in the North. As Arctic ice melts, the region will experience increased transportation traffic in sea lanes that provide quicker, shorter access to European markets.

Admiral Allen told the Senate, “The Coast Guard today underscored what Alaskans have been saying for years – that the U.S. must beef up its ability to deal with warming in the Arctic which is increasing marine transportation in the fragile North. As our nation faces the challenges of a global economy, the environmental impacts of climate change, piracy, and the long-term struggle against radical extremism; the Coast Guard must be equipped to conduct preparedness and response operations across a broad spectrum of potential risks, threats and hazards.”

The Coast Guard is looking at the existing fleet of icebreakers in the United States and it is apparent that they aren’t up to growing needs of the region. Admiral Allen estimates that there should be a fleet of six icebreakers available to operate in both the Arctic and Antarctic. New ship building cost for an icebreaker is estimated to be $900 million.

Alaska’s Senator, Mark Begich supports the transfer of control for existing icebreakers from the National Science Foundation back to the Coast Guard and development of submarines fully able to operate in Arcic conditions.

Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum

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