ARCTIC: Ice-Free Polar Waters by 2030?

July 13, 2011 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment

On Thin Ice

Arctic sea ice is melting at such a rapid rate that officials warn Arctic waters may be ice free during the summer months by 2030.

Polar bears need ice to hunt (NOAA photo by K. Elliott, 2005)

Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, says sea ice is melting at a record pace – as much as 150,00 square kilometers per day. Not only is the area of ice-covered waters decreasing, but the ice is thinner making it more susceptible to melting. “We are on track to see an ice free summer by 2030,” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper quotes Serreze.

That’s good news for some seafaring countries like China that would like to take a shorter route across the Arctic Sea to deliver manufactured export goods to Europe. But it is a concern for other countries like Canada, worried about retaining sovereignty over its Arctic coast and the mineral wealth projected to lie beneath the frigid waters.

Large deposits of oil, natural gas and minerals – including rare earths needed to manufacture high tech equipment – are believed to lie beneath Arctic waters. Canada and the U.S. are concerned that untapped wealth could spark a “Cold Rush” by other Arctic countries trying to claim large underwater tracts based on the extent of continental shelves beneath the sea.

U.S. and Canadian authorities are also worried about oil spills and possible shipping disasters in the remote region. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has no rescue ships or helicopters in the High North to handle such emergencies, Reuters reports. There is no permanent Coast Guard station that far north. It would be extremely difficult to mount an emergency response to an Arctic oil spill on the scale of BP’s oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp told an Arctic ice symposium in Washington recently.

Eight Arctic nations – including the United States, Canada, Russia and Norway – signed an agreement in May to cooperate in search and rescue operations above the Arctic Circle. (See May 12 4GWAR Blog post)

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Entry filed under: Arctic, National Security and Defense. Tags: , , , , , , .

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