Released by the space agency NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the data show that the maximum extent of the 2008-2009 winter sea-ice cover was the fifth-lowest since researchers began collecting the information in 1979. Of those 30 years, the past six have produced the six lowest maximums. The new data show that the percentage of older, thicker and more persistent ice shrank to its lowest level ever, at just 9.8% of the winter ice cover.
Meanwhile, secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Arctic Council that the United States will press for greater action on climate change. It also will support passage of the Law of the Sea Treaty to help regulate expanded human activity in a warmer Arctic, including shipping, fishing and oil exploration.
Clinton said the United States may propose that Arctic Council nations act to curb shorter-lived pollutants such as methane, soot (black carbon) and ozone that compound the effects of carbon dioxide in the polar regions.
Scientists have begun debating how soon the Arctic will lose its summer ice altogether, with some saying it could happen as early as 2015. White House science adviser John P Holdren said the total disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic “may be far, far closer” than scientists thought just a few years ago. “The ice is melting,” said Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre. “We should all be worried.”
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