Skip navigation

Catlin Arctic Survey suggests ice-free summers

Polar bear (iStockphotos)

The Arctic Ocean will be almost totally ice-free during the summer within a decade and an 'open sea' by 2020, according to an independent report published today(15 Oct) that offers fresh evidence on the impact of climate change.


The Catlin Arctic Survey (CAS), which carried out surface measurements during winter and spring 2009, suggested the survey area was comprised almost exclusively of first-year ice.


This is a significant finding because the region has traditionally contained older, thicker multi-year ice. The average thickness of the ice-floes measured 1.8m, a depth considered too thin to survive the next summer’s ice melt.


The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which is working with CAS to publicise scientific findings on climate change, said the survey was an 'urgent call to action' for governments ahead of the global negotiations on climate change in Copenhagen next month.


Martin Sommerkorn, senior climate change advisor at the WWF International Arctic Programme, said loss of ice on this scale would set in motion powerful climate feedbacks which will have an impact far beyond the Arctic itself.


'This could lead to flooding affecting one-quarter of the world’s population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions from massive carbon pools and extreme global weather changes,' Dr Sommerkorn said.


'Today's findings provide yet another urgent call for action to world leaders ahead of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen this December to rapidly and effectively curb global greenhouse gas emissions, with rich countries committing to reduce emissions by 40% by 2020.'


Professor Peter Wadhams, leader of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, which analysed the data, said the survey supported the new consensus view that the Arctic would be ice-free in summer within about 20 years.


'Man has taken the lid off the northern end of his planet and we can't put that lid back on again,' said Professor Wadhams, who is one of the world's leading experts on sea ice cover in the North Pole region.


'With a larger part of the region now first-year ice, it is clearly more vulnerable. The area is now more likely to become open water each summer, bringing forward the potential date when the summer sea ice will be completely gone.'


The data were collected by explorer Ben Hadow and his team who carried out manual drilling and observations on a 450km route across the northern part of the Beaufort Sea.


Mr Hadow said: 'This is the kind of scientific work we always wanted to support by getting to places in the Arctic which are otherwise nearly impossible to reach for research purposes. Our on-the-ice techniques are helping scientists to understand better what is going on in this fragile ecosystem.'

CCS Guide

Oxyfuel (02/C02 recycle) combustion capture (Crown Copyright)

Ahead of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, this guide explains what CCS is, and why it's important for a global deal at Copenhagen logo ( is an international campaign dedicated to building solutions to the climate crisis-the solutions that the science demand.


Milestones on the road to Copenhagen

December 2009 (iStockphotos)

See what's happening in the lead up to Copenhagen this month


rss icon Follow Act on Copenhagen's updates towards negotiations in Copenhagen