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For Immediate Release, September 19, 2012

Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301 or

Arctic Summer Sea Ice Hits Another Record Low

Rapid Ice Loss Will Increase Risk of Extreme Weather

SAN FRANCISCO— The world’s climate crisis just hit a dire milestone: The extent of sea ice across the Arctic appears to have reached a record low, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced today. The data center said that on Sept. 16 the sea ice reached its summer minimum, at just 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers) — half the average size of summer ice between 1979 and 2000 and the lowest since satellite record-keeping began in 1979.

“The polar meltdown shows we’re teetering on the brink of climate-change catastrophe,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Arctic sea ice plays a critical role in regulating the planet’s climate. As man-made global warming shrinks the ice, our risk of droughts and other extreme weather goes up. We can’t wait any longer to cut carbon pollution.”

The loss of Arctic sea ice has been linked to the increase in extreme weather events that have been devastating the country. Studies have found that melting sea ice and accelerating Arctic warming spur changes in the jet stream that increase the frequency of weather extremes such as droughts, floods, heat waves and cold spells in the United States and other mid-latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

This year’s minimum is almost 20 percent lower than the previous record minimum of 1.61 million square miles (4.17 million square kilometers) set on Sept. 18, 2007, according to the data center. Sea ice dropped below the 2007 minimum on Aug. 26 this year and melted for several more weeks to reach this new record low. The data center said that this year’s conditions were not as favorable for sea ice loss compared to 2007, but the thinning of sea ice due to climate change has made the ice more vulnerable to breakup and melting.

“Polar bears, walruses and seals in the Arctic depend on sea ice for their survival and it’s literally melting beneath their feet,” Wolf said. “But now it isn’t just Arctic wildlife feeling the pain, the loss of sea ice has profound implications for the rest of the planet, including here in the U.S.”

In addition to the loss of sea-ice extent, the thickness and volume of the ice has also been declining dramatically. In August researchers with the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe reported that Arctic sea-ice volume is declining much faster than expected, with 3,118 cubic miles (13,000 cubic kilometers) of sea ice measured in the summer of 2004 and only 1,679 cubic miles (7,000 cubic kilometers) this summer. At the current pace, the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer for a day or more by the end of the decade.

Today’s announcement caps a summer of record-breaking extreme weather events fueled by man-made climate change. July was the hottest month on record, and worldwide August was the 330th consecutive month with a temperature hotter than the 20th-century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This summer’s devastating dry spell has put two-thirds of the country in drought and led the federal government to designate more than half the counties in the United States as primary disaster areas.

The rapid loss of sea ice also poses a severe threat to endangered polar bears, ice seals, walruses and other Arctic animals that rely on sea ice for survival.

Both the technology and the legal tools to achieve rapid greenhouse pollution reductions are already in place. Full use of all of the Clean Air Act’s successful pollution-reduction programs is our best route to quick reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  The Obama administration, however, has been too slow and timid in using this bedrock law to cut pollution. In response, 36 communities representing more than 13 million people have joined the Center’s Clean Air Cities campaign, which urges President Obama and the EPA to address the climate crisis through the Clean Air Act’s science-based programs.

Learn more about the Center’s Clean Air Cities campaign and get the facts about the Clean Air Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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