Kids (en)
Our Universe
Life in Space
Technology
Earth
 
 
lab
fun
news
 
Climate change
Svalbard area, Norway
Svalbard area as seen by Envisat

Arctic ice is breaking up!

Permanent ice caps have existed at the North and South Poles for millions of years. But dramatic changes are taking place at the top of the world. New satellite surveys show that the sea ice in the Arctic has been thinning and breaking up.

Images obtained from 23 to 25 August 2006 show for the first time dramatic openings in the permanent sea ice. These extend from the island of Svalbard and across the Russian Arctic all the way to the North Pole - an area larger than the British Isles.

Radar images from ESA’s Envisat show openings in the ice as areas of dark grey and black. The Aqua satellite shows regions of broken ice in yellow, orange and green. Altogether, around 5-10 percent (up to one tenth) of the ice that survived the summer was broken up by August storms.

Arctic ice concentration in 2006
Arctic ice concentration in 2006

“This situation is unlike anything observed in previous record low ice seasons,” said Mark Drinkwater of ESA’s Oceans/Ice Unit.

According to Drinkwater, the ice pack may have been so fragmented that a ship could have easily sailed from Siberia to the North Pole – something that would normally be impossible. Only in the last few weeks has the sea begun to freeze over again.

During the last 25 years, satellites have observed the Arctic ice shrink further and further in the summer melt season. In the early 1980s, the late summer ice covered about 8 million square km. Last year, it was less than 5.5 million square km. These changes are widely blamed on global warming.

Copyright 2000 - 2011 © European Space Agency. All rights reserved.