North Pole On Thin Ice

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I'm as tired of hearing about melting polar icecaps and dying polar bears as you are, but think about this: You could potentially sail, kayak, or even swim to the North Pole by the end of the summer. Climate scientists say that the Arctic ice covering 90 degrees north is currently on track to melt sometime in 2008. If that's not a climate change mind-blower, I don't know what is.

A unique set of circumstances might allow the North Pole to go naked this year. The super-thick ice that normally covers the pole takes years to form, and it's all been blown away; in its place lies a thinner layer of ice formed over just a single year. This one-year ice is extremely vulnerable to melting under the summer sun, and it's already melting faster than last year, which set an all-time record for summer sea-ice shrinkage.

"From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the globe, but symbolically it is hugely important. There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water," said Mark Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.

"The issue is that, for the first time that I am aware of, the North Pole is covered with extensive first-year ice – ice that formed last autumn and winter. I'd say it's even-odds whether the North Pole melts out," said Dr Serreze.

Besides the enormous ecological impacts, scientists also worry that the lack of ice might drive Arctic countries — which includes us — to begin exploring the oil- and mineral-rich Arctic seabed. Previously, the thick ice and extreme logistics kept energy exploration out of the picture.

I could see the ice-melt causing a surge in boat tours to the North Pole: "No more mushing dog sleds! No more down suits! No more freeze-dried food for weeks on end! Enjoy a view of the North Pole with a mint julep on the Lido deck of Royal Caribbean's Arctic Star line!"

Either way, I sure hope Santa has a boat.

— Ted Alvarez

Exclusive: No ice at the North Pole (The Independent)