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For Immediate Release, September 9, 2011

Contact:  Shaye Wolf, (415) 385-5746 or

Arctic Summer Sea Ice Breaks Historic Low

Dwindling Sea Ice Is Latest Sign of Climate Change’s Ongoing Effects Around the Planet

SAN FRANCISCO— The University of Bremen announced that the Arctic summer sea ice extent reached a new historic low on Thursday at 4.24 million square kilometers (1.64 million square miles). The previous one-day minimum since satellite records began in 1972 was 4.27 million square kilometers (1.65 million square miles) on Sept. 17, 2007. The research team reported that the summer sea ice has retreated by 50 percent since 1972, and warned that further sea-ice declines this month are likely since the melt season has not yet ended.

“This stunning loss of Arctic sea ice is yet another wake-up call that climate change is here now and is having devastating effects around the world,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Every moment that Washington delays in taking strong action on climate change further jeopardizes our future.”

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center has not yet called a record low, although it announced earlier this week that sea ice extent in August was near the record lows of 2007 and warned that the ice could reach a new record minimum this summer. The higher resolution satellite system used by the University of Bremen provides more detail about ice cover than satellites used by the U.S. data center, which explains the difference between the announcements.

The news of the record sea ice loss comes on the heels of Thursday’s announcement by the National Climatic Data Center that this summer was the second-hottest on record since 1895, and follows in a wake of other climate change-related natural disasters this summer that have cost hundreds of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Arctic sea ice plays a critical role in regulating our global climate by reflecting sunlight and keeping the polar regions cool.

The rapid loss of sea ice poses a severe threat to polar bears, ice seals, walruses and other Arctic animals that rely on the sea ice for survival. Researchers recently reported that polar bears and their cubs are dying in increasing numbers because they are being forced to swim grueling distances across open water when there is no sea ice to be found.

In August, an estimated 8,000 walruses in two large herds were discovered hauled out on beaches of the Chukchi Sea near Point Lay, Alaska, because the sea ice they need for resting is gone. Young walruses that are forced to come ashore face greater risks because they are vulnerable to being trampled to death in stampedes and attacked by predators. In 2009, 131 young walruses were crushed to death in stampedes along Alaska’s shores near Icy Cape. Previously unprecedented, haul-outs are becoming a common occurrence on the Alaskan coast as sea ice disappears.

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