Arctic ice breaks up as polar bears stalk ship
500 MILES FROM THE NORTH POLE - Stepping onto an Arctic ice floe on Monday, an unusually mild, easterly breeze blew at the end of the annual summer melt. The footprints of two polar bears from the night before were disintegrating in a dusting of snow.Healing the planet: Greenpeace to spend five weeks ramming through "fragile/critical" Arctic ice with a 163-foot diesel-powered steel luxury yacht
The Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise nearby shuddered occasionally, nudged by white slabs of ice the size of a small car park, which jostled among threads of open water.
The water temperature was below zero, the ship's log read, and the air was filled by the hum of its generators. The ship's mooring ropes were driven by two giant stakes into ice up to 10 metres thick.
This entire Arctic landscape is forecast to disappear within decades and replaced by open sea each summer, perhaps for the first time in 7,000 years or more. The dramatic retreat signals the scale of humankind's impact on the climate, experts say.
Environmental group Greenpeace wanted to draw attention to changes in the high Arctic, and ferried Cambridge University researchers from Svalbard to measure the thickness of the ice. Experts say it has been thinning for decades, possibly hastening an entirely ice-free summer as soon as 2020.
The sea ice area is easily read from satellites overhead. Measuring thickness is more difficult, and the most direct approach is to drill a hole and poke a tape measure down.
On this research trip, the most dramatic recording was simply our arrival time back in Svalbard, hastened many hours by a sea ice retreat of 8 miles in just three days.
Researchers who go to the Arctic rarely find themselves in the same place twice and it is a privilege to measure such a change so precisely.
"We were basically at the same point where we entered and left the ice, and you could see there was a difference," said Arne Sorensen, Arctic Sunrise ice.
Arctic Sunrise: Fuel Capacity: 508000 L.