Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) study the levels of Arctic ice and snow each year to measure the fluctuations of the ice cap. And this year, they found the level of ice in the Arctic shrank to its second-lowest level ever, just under the record low levels of freeze found in 2007.
However, observers at the NSIDC said 2011’s figures may be more alarming because weather patterns were normal—as opposed to the odd weather in 2007 that may have sped melting.
Part of the melting may have to do with the fact that the summer (June-August) was the seventh warmest summer on record (since records started being kept in 1880). And though the Arctic ice levels might not change worldwide sea levels, some scientists worry the loss of an ice cap might lead to glaciers melting into the sea. If that happened, many researchers fear a global sea surge could put some coastal towns in danger, particularly in the event of a waterborne natural disaster like a typhoon.
The melting ice does present opportunities for shipping and oil companies. But environmental groups are quick to point out that drilling for oil in the Arctic is an extremely risky endeavor—the environment
is very fragile and any spill would likely be much more catastrophic than a spill elsewhere in the world.
While the decreasing Arctic ice levels might not a affect humans in the immediate future, experts are already beginning to see the stunning impact of the ecosystem changes on Arctic wildlife. Walruses have
lost much of their hunting and resting area, leading to starvation and lesser survival rates for the cold winter. And polar bears have seen much of their ecosystem literally melt away over the last few years. Activists are pushing for both species to be added to endangered animal lists.