Probably one of the most remarkable moments of this expedition was when we returned and had a chance to talk with Al Gore and scientists about our eyewitness experience. After 43 days of rough ice which prevented us from reaching the northern coast of Ellesmere to visit the last remnants of the last ice age, we learned that we actually were traveling through the ruins of the summer sea ice from the Arctic Ocean! The conditions we faced from Resolute to the north shore of Axel Heiberg refers to the transition of the Arctic Ocean from multiyear ice to new ice. The summer break-up of the Arctic Ocean sea ice did in fact drift to this area and clogged up our route.
The total coverage area of the multiyear ice of the Arctic Ocean has reduced over 10 years, from 65% to approximately 28%. Although the Arctic Ocean freezes up in the winter, the multi-year ice is the back-bone of the summer sea ice, and when this diminishes, as it has been over the last 10 years, the summer melt will be much quicker and dramatic. Last year alone the Arctic Ocean lost up to 50% of the total surface ice – changing the reflectivity of the top of the globe – with more of the sun’s energy being absorbed by the darker ocean (this is referred to as a reverse albedo affect). As a result, the Arctic Ocean warmed an astounding 3 degrees Celsius last summer. This warming of the ocean is called “background warming.” This helped break up the multiyear ice. In addition, this background warming scientists estimated caused one meter of ice to melt on the Arctic Oean. The domino effect is expected to continue this summer.
As we travel across Greenland in a few weeks as a training for next year, we will stay tuned to this summer’s melt.
2008 Global Warming 101 Ellesmere Island Expedition