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Jun 072010
 

From Green Right Now Reports

Image: NASA.gov

Image: NASA.gov

An international group of researchers who have compiled the first comprehensive history of Arctic ice have come to a sobering conclusion: Less of it covers the region today than at any time in recent geologic history.

In an upcoming issue of Quarternary Science Reviews, a team led by Ohio State University offers results derived from re-examining data from nearly 300 past and ongoing studies. The group combined all observations to construct a view of the pole’s climate history for millions of years.

“The ice loss that we see today — the ice loss that started in the early 20th Century and sped up during the last 30 years — appears to be unmatched over at least the last few thousand years,” said Leonid Polyak, lead author of the paper and a research scientist at Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State.

Satellites provide detailed measures of how much ice is covering the pole right now. For a longer-term view, sediment cores offer a glimpse into history.

“Sediment cores are essentially a record of sediments that settled at the sea floor, layer by layer, and they record the conditions of the ocean system during the time they settled,” Polyak explained. “When we look carefully at various chemical and biological components of the sediment, and how the sediment is distributed — then, with certain skills and luck, we can reconstruct the conditions at the time the sediment was deposited.”

While knowing the loss of surface area of the ice is important, Polyak says it can’t yet reveal an even more important fact: how the total volume of ice — thickness as well as surface area — has changed over time.

“The newest satellite techniques and field observations allow us to see that the volume of ice is shrinking much faster than its area today. The picture is very troubling. We are losing ice very fast,” he said.