The Arctic Ocean is predicted to become more ice-free during the summer months, and that is a positive sign for oil and gas companies either pursuing or considering exploring the region. Although Arctic sea ice is not melting at the record pace it did in 2012, scientists expect the melting trend will continue as the planet’s climate warms. On Sept. 12, the minimum sea ice extent dropped to its lowest extent of the year – 5.10 MMsq km (1.97 MMsq miles), the sixth lowest in the satellite record, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSICD). “While this is a very welcome recovery from last year’s record low, the overall trend is still decidedly downward,” NSIDC Director Mark Serreze told Bloomberg in a statement. “We could be looking at summers with essentially no sea ice on the Arctic Ocean only a few decades from now.” The 2013 minimum was 1.69 MMsq km (653,000 sq miles) above the record minimum extent reached Sept. 16, 2012, according to the NSIDC. “Comparing this year’s minimum extent to 2012, while extent was higher on average this year, there were variations from region to region. There was considerably higher sea ice extent in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian sea regions, with the ice edge several hundred kilometers farther south compared to last year,” the NSIDC said in a news release. “This year the Canadian Archipelago also retained much more ice, keeping the Northwest Passage closed. The most notable area of less ice this year compared to last was off the east coast of Greenland, south of Fram Strait. Other small areas of decreased extent were found north of the Kara and Laptev seas.” Martin Lidegaard, the Danish minister for Climate, Energy, and Building, pointed out how much change has taken place after flying over an ice sheet last summer. He gave remarks in December 2012 about what he saw. “We were headed for the monitoring station measuring the melting ice. But when we arrived confusion broke out. There was nothing there – no monitoring station – nothing,” he said. “Standing there the truth became terribly clear to us. The monitoring station had dropped to the ground because the ice plates keeping it upright had shrunk.” The sea ice extent will now start its seasonal autumn and winter increase, although a shift in wind patterns or a late season melt could cause the ice extent to drop, according to the NSIDC. If the trend continues, more companies could seek hydrocarbons offshore Greenland and in the Kara and Laptev sea areas. But that pursuit won’t necessarily lead to open doors. That melting ice is evidence that the earth is getting warmer. And efforts are under way on many fronts to combat climate change, including in Greenland and the US, by pushing for use of renewables, striving for energy efficiency, and working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Government officials from across the world are planning to meet Oct. 23 and 24 to talk about increasing climate-related investments and what governments can do to encourage such development. Lidegaard will host one meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, while the US government will host the second, according to the Danish Ministry for Climate, Energy, and Building’s website. As diplomatic efforts are taken, others continue to be more active in their attempts to protect the environment. And the response to such protest, specifically in Russia, is becoming more intense. Earlier this month, two Greenpeace International activities scaled Gazprom’s drilling platform in protest of the company’s Arctic oil drilling operations. On Sept. 19, Greenpeace said the Russian Coast Guard boarded the organization’s Arctic Sunrise vessel, which was circling Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform, and took the 30 activists on board into custody. The Coast Guard fired 11 warning shots during the incident, according to the statement from Greenpeace, which said its vessel was in international waters at the time. On Sept. 24, the Associated Press reported Russia has filed piracy charges against the activists. Gazprom plans to begin production from the Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea this year, making it the first hydrocarbon production project in the Russian Arctic shelf. Contact the author, Velda Addison, at email@example.com.
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