Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The impassable dream



When I was growing up, the Northwest Passage, the sea route from Europe to Asia, was one of those fabled sites of adventure that populate boyhood (day)dreams. Distant though it may have been, Hollywood & books brought it close, along with other dreamings of impenetrable forests, forgotten cities & fabulous animals & birds (& don’t forget the reptiles) that may still exist.

Today I read that a rapid rise in the rate that Arctic ice is melting has opened the NWP at least two decades earlier than scientists monitoring the effects of global warming had expected.

The European Space Agency said Arctic sea ice was now at its smallest recorded extent, raising the possibility of the passage being routinely used by commercial shipping during the summer.

Scientists had expected that with the climate changing, the passage would become navigable for merchant ships within the next two decades, but the discovery that it has already opened up has caused surprise & alarm.

In the past year alone, the rate at which the ice is melting has increased tenfold. There has been a reduction of the ice cover over the last 10 years of about 100,000 square kilometres per year on average, so a drop of one million square kilometres in just one year is extreme.

The image above is a mosaic of over 200 individual photos taken by the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite. The dark grey represents clear water, while sea ice is colour-coded green.

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