More than half of the Arctic Ocean was covered in year-round ice in the mid-1980s. Today, satellite evidence released by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration shows that perennial Arctic ice cover remains on less than 30 percent of the ocean.
"The rate of sea-ice loss we're observing is much worse than even the most pessimistic projections led us to believe," says Carroll Muffett of Greenpeace USA. For the first time on record, in the summer of 2007 the entire Northwest Passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans was ice-free.
Meanwhile, energy companies are racing to profit from the melting ice. Arctic Oil & Gas Corporation, an exploration company, has claimed exclusive rights to develop oil resources in the Arctic Ocean. However, development rights are strongly disputed among the United States, Russia, Canada, and Norway. All four countries are debating how far their continental shelves extend into the ocean and therefore grant them legal freedom to drill.
In the seas north of Russia and Alaska, expanded oil and gas development is already under way. In...