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Record sea ice melt in Arctic alarms scientists

The ice cap across the Arctic Ocean has shrunk to its lowest recorded size, and more may melt before the end of the northern hemisphere's summer. The ice retreat is a sign of climate change, say US scientists.

Arctic ice is considered vital for the planet because it reflects solar energy from the sun back into space, helping to cool the globe's climate.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center and the space agency NASA said on Tuesday that the Arctic sea ice, which was once a big block, has become "slush," now spanning only 4.1 million square kilometers (1.6 million square miles).

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Arctic ice is melting at record rate

The ice area was some 70,000 square kilometers less than the summer-time record set in 2007, the institutions said. Arctic weather this year was said to be unremarkable - other than a storm that shattered the ice sheet in early August.

"It's likely we are going to surpass the record decline by a fair amount this year by the time all is said and done," Walt Meier, a scientist at the data center in Boulder, Colorado, said

Melt even worse than forecasts

The melt was faster than even predicted in worst-case climate models, according to Michael E. Mann, an earth scientist at Penn State University who was the lead author of a major United Nations report in 2001 on climate change.

"The sea ice decline is perhaps the most profound of those cautionary tales because the models have basically predicted that we shouldn't see what we're seeing now for several decades," Mann said.

Arctic soon without summer ice

NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati said the record ice depletion was a signal that the North Pole would soon not have significant ice cover during its summer months.

Abdalati said the world community should be alarmed because the Arctic's ice cover was a key factor for the creation of climatic and weather conditions under which modern society had developed.

A recent edition of the magazine "Geophysical Research" pointed to correlations between arctic melt and extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, heatwaves and cold snaps.

While industry lobby groups say fossil fuel limitation would be too costly for the economy, Greenpeace said on Monday that the planet was "warming up at a rate that puts billions of people's future in jeopardy."

ipj/msh (Reuters, AFP)

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