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Arctic Summer Ice Thickness Halves to 1 Metre

Date: 19-Sep-07
Country: NORWAY
Author: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

"There was loose ice everywhere we went," Ursula Schauer,
leader of a scientific expedition aboard the Polarstern
ice-breaker, told Reuters by telephone from the Arctic Ocean
north of Siberia.

"All of these areas have previously had two metres of ice,"
said Schauer, who works at the Alfred Wegener Institute in
Germany, of a trip from Norway around the North Pole and back
towards Russia. The last major survey was in 2001.

A summer trend of increased ice melting -- widely linked to
human emissions of greenhouse gases -- may also threaten the
livelihoods of Arctic peoples and wildlife such as polar bears.

But it could open a fabled short-cut for ships between the
Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and allow exploration for oil and
gas. Russia planted a flag on the ocean floor beneath the North
Pole last month in a symbolic claim.

The European Space Agency said last week the shrinking of
the ice had opened the Northwest Passage north of Canada as a
short-cut route between Europe and Asia "that has been
historically impassable".

The passage will ice over in winter.

Schauer also said that there was only some ice blocking an
alternative northern sea route along the coast of Russia. Both
polar routes are far shorter between Europe and many Asian ports
than via the Suez or Panama canals.

"The Northeast Passage seems ice-free north of Siberia
except a little part between the mainland and (the island of)
Severnaya Zemlya," she said.

The thinning adds to evidence from satellites of a shrinking
of the Arctic summer ice extent to record lows. Some experts say
summer ice might vanish within decades, earlier than around the
end of the century projected by the UN climate panel.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center said on Monday
that Arctic sea ice had shrunk to a record low 4.14 million sq
km (1.6 million sq mile), more than 1.2 million sq km -- or the
size of South Africa -- less than the previous low in 2005.

A Russian ice-breaker, the Akademik Fedorov, had to abandon
a plan to deploy a manned station on the ice where scientists
had intended to spend the winter because the ice was too thin,
Schauer said.

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