by Edwin Mora
(CNSNews.com) - A scientist who tracks levels of ice and snow in the Arctic Ocean told CNSNews.com Monday that there is a “correlation” between the receding ice in the Arctic Sea and man-made global warming caused by the greenhouse effect.
But Dr. Walter Meier, a cryosphere scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo., admits he can’t prove that the link is cause-and-effect.
“The thing that’s very clear is that the sea ice changes that we are seeing go hand in hand with the warming temperature that we’ve seen, particularly in the Arctic and around the globe,” Meier told CNSNews.com.
Meier and a group of scientists from NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- announced Monday that this winter had the fifth lowest maximum ice extent on record.
“The maximum sea ice extent for 2008-09, reached on Feb. 28, was 5.85 million square miles,” according to researchers at the NSDIC. “That is 278,000 square miles less than the average extent for 1979 to 2000.”
According to NASA, the NSDIC team used two years worth of data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) to make his observations.
They found that seasonal ice averages about 6 feet in thickness, while ice that had lasted through more than one summer averages about 9 feet, though it can “grow much thicker in some locations near the coast.”
CNSNews.com posed a question to Meier: “Given the fact that Arctic sea ice has changed many times in the past, how is it possible to know scientifically whether the melting is due to so-called man-made ‘global warming’ or to a natural cyclical phenomenon?”
Meier said he thinks there is a link between higher temperatures and increased greenhouse gases. But he admitted that sea ice has changed a lot through time and his understanding of long-term ice change is limited “somewhat” to century-old data.
“How it (Arctic sea ice) varied before our satellite record, which started in 1979, which is relatively short, is harder to say,” Meier told CNSNews.com, “although we have fairly good records at least back to the 1950s and somewhat that’s good through the early 1900s.”
But a veteran climatologist who questions the global warming idea, told CNSNes.com that NSIDC'’s own data refute Meier’s claim – and point to “solar activity” as a prime cause for the melting ice pack.
Dr. Joe D’Aleo, executive director of the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project [ICECAP], said the depletion of sea ice in the Arctic is part of the Earth’s cycles – and “solar activity”
“The Arctic temperatures undergo a cyclical change every 60 to 70 years tied to cycles on the sun and in the oceans,” said D’Aleo, who was the first director of meteorology at The Weather Channel.
“You can see very warm temperatures in the 1930s then cooling and another warming in the last few decades in close correlation with solar activity,” he added, “but with a poor correlation with CO2.”
D’Aleo said that NSIDC’s own research put a spotlight on the correlation between melting Arctic ice sheets and solar activity back in 2007.
“One prominent researcher, Igor Polyakov at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, pointed out that ‘pulses of unusually warm water have been entering the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic, which several years later are seen in the ocean north of Siberia,’” D’Aleo said.
“These pulses of water are helping to heat the upper Arctic Ocean, contributing to summer ice melt and helping to reduce winter ice growth.”
Evolution of the Arctic
Regardless of its origin, the NASA and NSDIC scientists pointed out that melting sea ice is having profound effects on the Arctic.
According to Ronald Kwok, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, older, thicker ice is disappearing and is being substituted by newer, thinner ice that is susceptible to the summer melt.
“Thin seasonal ice – ice that melts and re-freezes every year – makes up about 70 percent of the Arctic sea in wintertime, up from 40 to 50 percent in the 1980s and 1990s,” according to the NASA scientist.
“Thicker ice, which survives two or more years, now comprises 10 percent of wintertime ice cover, down 30 to 40 percent,” said another NASA researcher, Thomas Wagner.
The thinning ice is a problem for the Arctic’s wildlife and the people who reside there, Meier said.
“Of course there are also ramifications within the Arctic on wildlife that rely on the sea ice, such as polar bears, and seals, and walrus; and people that live in the Arctic that rely on the ice for transportation, for hunting, where the ice is really part of their culture,” he added.
Ironically, however, the scientists say the Arctic sea ice melt may uncover new ocean routes, new terrain for natural resources exploration, and change geographical ownership, according to the observations by NASA and the NSIDC.
“As this ice goes away, we’re going to have new trade routes, new opportunities to explore for natural resources, and it will completely change the geo-political landscape,” said NASA’s Wagner.
Wagner added that change in landscape may involve “everything from the potential for security issues for the U.S. to think about to how to respond to other nations that are making claims to the Arctic.”