Arctic Ice in "Death Spiral," Is Near Record Low

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This makes 2008's near record all the more striking, researchers say.

"The remarkable thing about this summer is that we got all the way down to second lowest without especially favorable atmospheric patterns that would hasten melt," Serreze said.

No Recovery

This near record low in 2008 was expected because warming has melted much of the older ice pack, resulting in thinner sea ice, which melts rapidly.

Last winter, some parts of the Arctic were colder than normal. Overall its sea ice grew to a larger area than the ice had in the past few years. Some observers hailed this as a slight recovery.

But then the ice melted rapidly through the summer, with the ice cover shrinking faster this August than in any other August on record. "Not much of a 'recovery'," Serreze said.

Vulnerable Ice

"The most interesting aspect [of this year's melt] was the rapid loss of ice in August," said Sheldon Drobot, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

"The ice always melts during August, but typically the rate of melt begins to decline as fall begins to set in. However, the rate of decline remained high this year."

The remaining ice pack is younger and thinner than ever, "which is something we'll see next year too," Drobot said.

So even without special conditions like those seen in 2007, next summer could set a new record low, he added.

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