WASHINGTON The world's Arctic ice cap has shrunk to a new low, surpassing a record set only five years ago, and is expected to keep retreating for a few more weeks, according to U.S. data released on Monday.
The Arctic sea ice fell to 1.58 million square miles, or 4.10 million square kilometers, down 27,000 square miles from 2007, the lowest since satellites began measuring the ice in 1979, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.
"It's a little surprising to see the 2012 Arctic sea ice extent in August dip below the record low 2007 sea ice extent in September," said Walt Meier, a scientist with the data center.
"It's likely we are going to surpass the record decline by a fair amount this year by the time all is said and done."
The ice is expected to dwindle until mid- to late-September when the summer melting usually ends, according to the center.
Shrinking of the Arctic ices alarms scientists and environmentalists because the Arctic acts as the world's air conditioner, helping to moderate the globe's climate.
As parts of the Arctic melted, this year has been marked by record heat in much of the Northern Hemisphere, especially across the continental United States which has been ravaged by drought.
Most scientists blame global warming for the retreat of the Arctic ice and there is concern that the growing amounts of open water means the Arctic will not be as effective moderating the planet's climate.
"These preliminary figures provide irrefutable evidence that greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming are damaging one of the planet's critical environments, one that helps maintain the stability of the global climate for every citizen of the world," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace.
(Reporting by Russ Blinch; Editing by Jackie Frank)