Aug. 24 - Scientists say Arctic sea ice is likely to shrink to its smallest recorded size sometime next week. The ongoing thaw has opened new sea lanes to shipping, with a Chinese icebreaker recently becoming the first ship to cross the Arctic Ocean from China to Iceland. Matt Stock reports.
The expected announcement by scientists that Arctic sea ice levels have reached record low levels, focuses attention once again on the impact of climate change on the region. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR SEYMOUR LAXON, DEPARTMENT OF EARTH SCIENCE AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "If we haven't reached an ice minimum already we're very close to approaching one." Professor Seymour Laxon from the department of earth science at University College London is part of a worldwide team using information gathered by the Europe's CryoSat-2 satellite. Its radar system gathers data that is used to calculate the thickness of the ice - giving a better understanding of the long-term sustainability of the ice. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR SEYMOUR LAXON, DEPARTMENT OF EARTH SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "Sometimes the radar bounces off the surface of the ice, sometimes it bounces off the water between the ice flows. And by looking at that difference in elevation we can measure roughly that one-tenth of the ice that is sticking up above the water." He says the data it produces is conclusive. It's backed up by the state of the environment itself. These NASA satellite images show the extent of ice retreat between July and August - opening new routes across the North Pole. Last week the Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon made history. With around 60 scientists aboard, she became the first ship to use the newly opened shipping lanes to get from China to Iceland. . (SOUNDBITE)(English) EXPEDITION LEADER DR HUIGEN YANG, DIRECTOR OF POLAR RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF CHINA SAYING: "To our astonishment the Northern Sea Route is, most part of the Northern Sea Route is open." 2012 has seen records set for heat and drought in much of the Northern Hemisphere temperate zone. Dr Laxon says there may be some connection between the two climate extremes, while conceding science is still trying to fully explain the link. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR SEYMOUR LAXON, DEPARTMENT OF EARTH SCIENCE AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "There's some statistical evidence to link what's going on in the Arctic with the weather in lower latitudes; in the UK and also in the United States. I think it's fair to say we still don't fully understand the processes that might be linking those two things." Arctic ice has been shrinking steadily in recent decades, threatening wildlife and the livelihoods of indigenous people. But the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) says the decline in Arctic sea ice has happened much faster than projections set by the UN 5 years ago. The new record is expected to be announced by the end of this month.