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For Immediate Release, February 3, 2011

Contact:  Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301 or

Arctic Sea Ice Hits Historic Low Just As Congress Moves Against Controls on Global Warming

SAN FRANCISCO— The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that the extent of Arctic sea ice for January 2011 was the lowest ever in the satellite record for that month. In January 2011, Arctic sea-ice extent averaged just 5.23 million square miles (13.55 million square kilometers), the lowest January ice extent since satellite records began in 1979. Air temperatures over much of the Arctic were 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 6 degrees Celsius) above normal in January. Meanwhile, earlier this week several members of Congress moved to block or delay action to slow global warming.

“The evidence mounts daily that climate change is here now, yet some members of Congress are digging their heads deeper into the sands of denial, preferring to preserve polluters’ profits over the future of our planet,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

Polar bears, ice seals, walruses and other Arctic animals rely on the sea ice for survival. Arctic sea ice also plays a critical role in regulating our global climate by reflecting sunlight and keeping the polar regions cool; it has declined dramatically over the past 30 years.

According to the Data Center, January’s sea-ice extent was 19,300 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) below the record low of 5.25 million square miles (13.60 million square kilometers) set in 2006, and 490,000 square miles (1.27 million square kilometers) below the 1979 to 2000 average — a 9-percent decline.

The news comes in the same week that new House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) unveiled draft legislation to repeal Clean Air Act protections aimed at slowing the buildup of dangerous carbon dioxide pollution; Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced legislation to exempt greenhouse gas pollution from any regulation under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and other bedrock environmental laws; and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill to delay EPA’s implementation of Clean Air Act protections to reduce carbon emissions.

“We possess the technological innovation to curb greenhouse pollution and slow global warming now. New and updated Clean Air Act standards for CO2, methane and nitrous oxide will spur additional technological innovation, create jobs, save lives and slow the melting of the Arctic sea ice — but only if Congress gets out of the way,” said Wolf.

In January researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska reported they had tracked a female polar bear’s record nine-day swim to reach an ice floe 426 miles offshore. The bear lost 22 percent of her body weight and her year-old cub. Polar bears and other species are struggling to survive as they lose the sea ice they need for hunting, resting and raising their young.

Sea-ice extent in January 2011 remained unusually low in Hudson Bay, an important habitat for the polar bear. Normally Hudson Bay freezes over by late November, but this year the Bay did not completely freeze over until mid-January.

Also last week, 18 of the nation’s leading climate scientists, including members of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote to Congress highlighting the urgency of the risks and consequences of delaying action on global warming. They said: “Climate change is underway and the severity of the risks we face is compounded by delay.”

Arctic sea ice 
Monthly January ice extent for 1979 to 2011 shows a decline of 3.3% per decade.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

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