New satellite images of Earth revealed that some of the oldest ice in the ocean is breaking up, severely affecting polar bear and seal habitats.
The images from the first week of August show the sea ice breaking up and drifting away from Greenland’s northern shores. This ice is some of the strongest ice in the ocean—it remains frozen every year, never melting during the summer.
The ice is described as the “last holdout” of ice in the Arctic that lasts year after year. According to The Independent, experts have warned that the breakup will increase the melting in the continent.
“In the past, most of the ice in the Arctic has been multi-year ice, but that has been shrinking and now nearly all the ice in the Arctic is first-year ice,” Professor Peter Wadhams, a sea ice scientist who heads the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, told The Independent.
Ice in the area has been thinning at an increasing pace due to warmer temperatures from climate change. In fact, the sea ice is currently 880,000 square kilometers smaller than the average from 1981 to 2010, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This area of the planet is warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth. The sea ice there is now more fractured and winds blowing across from the Atlantic side to the Pacific side are pushing the fragile ice away from the land.
“The fact that it has become mobile shows it is thinner than it used to be and this last holdout of heavy ice is now becoming as mobile as any other part of the Arctic,” Wadhams said.
Scientists expect this change to severely affect polar bears, however currently, the animals are currently facing winter conditions and may be spending a lot of time in the dens, so the full effect of the floating ice won’t be apparent until they emerge in the Spring.
“They can’t swim very far. If this becomes a permanent feature with ice away from the coast, polar bears won’t have any ice to hunt on. You would lose the polar bear habitat,” Wadhams explained.
On Tuesday, NASA announced the agency will continue their effort of researching the melting ice and sea level changes in Greenland by dropping probes into the water near the land for the third year in a row. The 250 probes will sink 3,000 feet to measure temperature and salinity and scientists hope the results will help them to understand the full effects of the warming temperatures and melting ice.