Melting ice to threaten shipping

Operational ice experts from Europe and North America recently gathered at ESRIN, ESA’s Earth Observation Centre in Frascati, Italy, to discuss the state of the Polar regions. Based on predictions made by the International Ice Charting Working Group, increased marine transportation is set to occur in the Arctic as sea ice continues to diminish. This, they warned, could lead to ‘significant hazards to navigation’.

The latest measurements of the Arctic Sea ice were made in September 2007. It was then that the scientists discovered that the ice had reached a record low in the history of ice charting based on satellite, aircraft and surface observations. The previous record low, as observed by Envisat and the EOS Aqua satellite, was in 2005 when the minimum ice extent was 5.5 million km².

In a statement released at the conference, the experts noted: ‘The Arctic is already experiencing an increase in shipping, primarily for oil and gas development and tourism, and we can expect to see further increases as diminishing ice extent makes Arctic marine transportation more viable. The International Ice Charting Working Group (IICWG) cautions that sea ice and icebergs will continue to present significant hazards to navigation for the foreseeable future.’

Dr Pablo Clemente-Colón, Chief Scientist at the US National Ice Center and a member of the International Ice Charting Working Group (IICWG) commented, ‘We have been very lucky to have had the capability to monitor the polar regions with satellites since the 1970s because it has allowed us to fully capture the trend,’ adding: ‘Furthermore, because of satellite monitoring we will be able – with a high-degree of precision – to indicate if the trend is reversing, continuing or worsening.’

In this climate, the new series of GMES Sentinel satellites being developed by ESA is essential to maintaining operational ice services in the immediate future. GMES (the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) responds to Europe’s needs for geo-spatial information services by bringing together the capacity of Europe to collect and manage data and information on the environment and civil security, for the benefit of European citizens.

Source EU

Author: EARSC

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