The frozen Arctic Ocean will become an open sea during the summer within a decade, according to the latest data. Climate change experts predict a massive melt which will see the ice cover completely disappear throughout the warmer months. British polar explorer Pen Hadow led an expedition to collect the data behind the alarming prediction.
He told Sky News: "We were able to reach the areas the scientists can't get to. Our findings are depressing. In just ten years or so 80-85 per cent of the Arctic Ocean will be ice free, and within twenty years we'll have completely lost the summer ice."
Hadow and the rest of the Catlin Arctic Survey team faced temperatures of down to minus 45C, and even had to swim part of the 450km journey. Using giant drills they measured the depth and age of the Arctic ice. Their results, the most recent gathered from the North Pole, show how the region is gradually disappearing.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge say it is "invaluable evidence". Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Physics Group said: "Up until now we've always thought of the Arctic Ocean as a white lid on top of the planet. But now that lid is being lifted and replaced with an open ocean which changes everything. It really is bad news."
As the ice disappears so too does its wildlife, from polar bears to walrus and seals. Moreover, the Arctic sea ice has been described as earth's refrigerator, and as it melts, it is expected to have a major impact on the world climate.
Campaigners are taking this latest research to the Copenhagen climate conference in December in the hope that the evidence will convince world leaders to take action in cutting carbon emissions. Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said the findings set out the "stark realities of a rapidly changing climate" and "illustrated the risk of an ice free summer in the Arctic in the not-too-distant future. This further strengthens the case for an ambitious global deal in Copenhagen in December which the UK is fully committed to achieving," he said.
Dr Martin Sommerkorn, from the WWF International Arctic Programme, warned there was "no time to lose". "Countries must see these results and think there is no alternative. We must deal with the problem and make investments. Humankind and our way of life is at stake."