The whole world is warming up, and one of the major reasons for this is the melting of glaciers at both ends of the earth. And sea levels are rising: a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in the summer may happen three times sooner than scientists have estimated, causing major coastal cities to drown.
New research says the Arctic might lose most of its ice cover in summer in as few as 30 years instead of the end of the century. The amount of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice at the end of summer by then could be only about 620,000 square miles. That?s compared to today?s ice extent of 2.8 million square miles. There?s a good side to this: so much more open water could be a boon for shipping and for extracting minerals and oil from the seabed.
Atmospheric researcher James Overland says, "In recent years the combination of unusual warm temperatures from natural causes and the global warming signal have worked together to provide an earlier summer sea-ice loss than was predicted when scientists considered the effects from human-caused carbon dioxide alone." Scientists don't expect the Arctic to be totally ice free, figuring that ice still will be found along northern Canada and Greenland where powerful winds sweeping across the Arctic Ocean force ice layers to slide on top of each other, making for a very thick ice cover.As global warming continues to damage polar regions, the Wilkins Ice Shelf is expected to break off the Antarctic continent "imminently," according to scientists. The Wilkins Ice Shelf is a large mass of floating ice, and its melting will not cause sea levels to rise. Nevertheless, its collapse is further evidence that increasing temperatures at the poles, predicted by global warming models, are affecting ice packs in increasingly dramatic ways. Shelf ice is important to the stability of Antarctic continental glaciers, because it prevents them from slipping into the sea. Without it, they move more quickly, and when they slide into the sea, they will cause dramatic and sudden increases in sea levels.
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