Diminished ice means there would be a smaller expanse of white reflecting sunlight back into space. That could accelerate warming in the Arctic, increase sea surface temperatures and lead to the melting of a major ice sheet, such as Greenland’s, which could raise global sea levels.
Between July 11 and 13, the Greenland ice sheet experienced the broadest thaw since 1973, with melt occurring on 97 percent of its surface. Three days later, a chunk of ice twice the size of Manhattan calved off the Petermann glacier, a break researchers attributed to warmer ocean temperatures.
Environmental activists said they will use the shrinking of sea ice in the Arctic — along with one of the worst U.S. drought and wildfire seasons in decades — to press for a cut in the burning of fossil fuels, whose greenhouse gas emissions are linked to climate change.
“Unfortunately, as our natural world cries out ever more loudly, the national conversation about climate change has lowered to a whisper,” said Lou Leonard, managing director of climate change at the World Wildlife Fund.
Less ice, more drilling
At the same time, Arctic warming is helping to speed oil and gas extraction, not curb it. Marine traffic is accelerating as the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route become routinely ice-free in the summer. The Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, or “Snow Dragon,” is now exploring a high-latitude route and reached 81 degrees north latitude on Friday.
Meanwhile, Shell appears to be on the verge of starting drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas, an effort that in the past has been bogged down by federal permitting delays and thicker-than-usual sea ice in some areas.
Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh wrote in an e-mail that the Discoverer should arrive in the Chukchi by the end of the week, while another vessel, the Kulluk, is halfway through its two-week journey to Shell’s Beaufort Sea leases.
“The departure of both the Kulluk and the Discoverer marks the first time working drilling rigs have charted a course for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in more than two decades,” she wrote, adding that the company will await final permission from the Interior Department before starting exploration.