The Arctic ice cap this year is the smallest it has been since the late 1970s, when satellite monitoring of the polar region began and the experts attribute the shrinkage to climate change and global warming.
“We had less ice this winter in the Arctic than any other winter during the satellite era,” Efe news agency quoted Jeff Key, head of the satellite research centre of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US, as saying at a conference here on Tuesday.
The rate of decline in Arctic ice for the month of March has averaged 2.6 percent per decade since the late 1970s, according to figures compiled by the NOAA.
“The peak was February 25, the normal peak is mid-March,” he said, noting that this winter, the Arctic ice reached its peak thickness “two to three weeks” ahead of normal.
That trend has important implications for maritime routes, fishing, the local fauna such as polar bears, exploitation of natural resources and native communities in Alaska.
“The less sea ice is certainly going to change weather patterns,” said Key. “It’s going to be a different world out there I think in 20, 30, 40 years.”
Meanwhile, Ed Farley, the head of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Centre in Juneau, said that the native communities in Alaska are having increasing problems catching enough fish to survive due to the smaller amount of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea.
Polar bears, too, he said, have been suffering the consequences of vanishing sea ice, and they have been forced to forage for “junk” food on land rather than rely on their normal prey of seals, which have a much greater fat content and are thus far more desirable as a food source.
Both scientists warned that the effects of the shrinking ice cap are not confined to the Arctic but rather have a significant influence on the climate all over the planet, including affecting the formation of hurricanes in the tropics and in the climate in the Himalayas.