Call it global warming or the hand of God, whatever. The fact is ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year, reports say.
This is the first time in human history that one will see an iceless summer on the North Pole.
Satellite observations indicate the ice remaining at the poles is melting faster than last year's rate, which was already a record year for Arctic ice loss. Scientists say whether or not the ice melts completely, this year's northern melt is yet another example of the impact that global warming is having on the planet's environment.
"There were some people who were saying last year was a rogue year. If the same thing happens again a lot more people are going to be persuaded about the consequences of global warming," Andy Mahoney, a researcher at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center, told CTV, a Canadian channel.
"A lot of people think it's a very small change in temperature. This shows that the change in sea ice is quite a dramatic consequence."
Seasoned polar scientists believe the chances of a totally ice-free North Pole this summer are greater than 50:50 because the normally thick ice formed over many years at the Pole has been blown away and replaced by huge swathes of thinner ice formed over a single year.
"The issue is that, for the first time that I am aware of, the North Pole is covered with extensive first-year ice - ice that formed last autumn and winter. I'd say it's even-odds whether the North Pole melts out," said Dr Mark Serreze, another researcher at the Colorado Center remarked.
Each summer the sea ice melts before reforming again during the long Arctic winter but the loss of sea ice last year was so extensive that much of the Arctic Ocean became open water, with the water-ice boundary coming just 700 miles away from the North Pole.
Ron Lindsay, a polar scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, agreed that much now depends on what happens to the Arctic weather in terms of wind patterns and hours of sunshine. "There's a good chance that it will all melt away at the North Pole, it's certainly feasible, but it's not guaranteed," Dr Lindsay said.
The polar regions are experiencing the most dramatic increase in average temperatures due to global warming and scientists fear that as more sea ice is lost, the darker, open ocean will absorb more heat and raise local temperatures even further. Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, who was one of the first civilian scientists to sail underneath the Arctic sea ice in a Royal Navy submarine, said that the conditions are ripe for an unprecedented melting of the ice at the North Pole.
"Last year we saw huge areas of the ocean open up, which has never been experienced before. People are expecting this to continue this year and it is likely to extend over the North Pole. It is quite likely that the North Pole will be exposed this summer - it's not happened before," Professor Wadhams said.
There are other indications that the Arctic sea ice is showing signs of breaking up. Scientists at the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Centre said that the North Water 'polynya' - an expanse of open water surrounded on all sides by ice - that normally forms near Alaska and Banks Island off the Canadian coast, is much larger than normal. Polynyas absorb heat from the sun and eat away at the edge of the sea ice.
Inuit natives living near Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland are also reporting that the sea ice there is starting to break up much earlier than normal and that they have seen wide cracks appearing in the ice where it normally remains stable. Satellite measurements collected over nearly 30 years show a significant decline in the extent of the Arctic sea ice, which has become more rapid in recent years, writes Steve Connor, Science Editor in Independent newspaper.
But forget the environmental concerns, Canada and other nations that border the Arctic -- including Russia and the U.S. -- are scrambling to lay claims to vast parts of the area, which may someday allow new resource development and shipping lanes.
A UN panel is supposed to decide on control of the Arctic by 2020. Last year, Canada's Conservative government announced plans to acquire up to eight Arctic patrol ships and to build an army base in Resolute Bay and a naval station in Nanisivik.
Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Arctic countries have 10 years after ratification to prove their claims under the largely uncharted polar ice pack. All countries with claims to the Arctic have ratified the treaty, with the exception of the United States.