Catlin Survey Predicts Arctic Ocean Ice Free Summers within 10 Years

October 15, 2009

The Catlin Group Limited’s Arctic Survey has released findings in London, which show that Arctic Ocean sea ice is thinning rapidly and the region will most likely be largely ice-free during the summer months within a decade.

The Catlin Arctic Survey was completed earlier this year. It has provided the latest record of Arctic ice thickness, and was the only survey capturing surface measurements of the Arctic sea ice during winter and spring 2009.

The survey team collected data “by manual drilling and observations on a 450-kilometer [282 mile] route across the northern part of the Beaufort Sea,” Catlin explained in a press bulletin. The survey area was “comprised almost exclusively of first-year ice. This is a significant finding because the region has traditionally contained older, thicker multi-year ice. The average thickness of the ice floes measured by the Catlin Arctic Survey ice team was 1.8 meters [about 6 feet], a depth considered too thin to survive the summer’s ice melt.”

These findings were analyzed by the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, led by Professor Peter Wadhams, one of the world’s leading experts on sea ice cover in the North Pole region. “With a larger part of the region now first-year ice, it is clearly more vulnerable,” he stated. “The area is now more likely to become open water each summer, bringing forward the potential date when the summer sea ice will be completely gone.”

The Catlin Arctic Survey data “supports the new consensus view — based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition — that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years, and that much of the decrease will occur within 10 years,” Wadhams continued. “That means you’ll be able to treat the Arctic as if it were essentially an open sea in the summer and have transport across the Arctic Ocean.”

According to the scientists who have studied the data, the techniques used by the explorers to take measurements on the surface of the ice have the potential to help ice modelers to refine predictions about the future survival or decline of the ice.

Catlin Arctic Survey expedition leader Pen Hadow commented: “This is the kind of scientific work we always wanted to support by getting to places in the Arctic which are otherwise nearly impossible to reach for research purposes. It’s what modern exploration should be doing. Our on-the-ice techniques are helping scientists to understand better what is going on in this fragile ecosystem.”

The results were presented yesterday in London. Dr. Martin Sommerkorn of the WWF International Arctic Program, which partnered with the Catlin Arctic Survey, noted: “The Arctic sea ice holds a central position in our Earth’s climate system. Take it out of the equation and we are left with a dramatically warmer world.

“Such a loss of Arctic sea ice cover has recently been assessed6 to set in motion powerful climate feedbacks which will have an impact far beyond the Arctic itself — self perpetuating cycles, amplifying and accelerating the consequences of global warming. This could lead to flooding affecting one-quarter of the world’s population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions from massive carbon pools and extreme global weather changes,” he added.

“Today’s findings provide yet another urgent call for action to world leaders ahead of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen this December to rapidly and effectively curb global greenhouse gas emissions, with rich countries committing to reduce emissions by 40per cent by 2020.

Stephen Catlin, chief executive of Catlin Group Limited, pointed out that the “measurements of the Arctic sea ice taken by the Catlin Arctic Survey team have now been verified and interpreted by researchers at the University of Cambridge. Their conclusions are important, and we hope that these findings will help stimulate debate at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen. ”

For further information, and to access the data from the survey, go to:

Source: Catlin Group –

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