Scientists Release New Polar Ice Findings

Last spring, the Catlin Arctic Survey members set out to walk - and sometimes swim- the just over 600 miles to the North Pole, collecting data on sea ice.

But almost immediately, their radar and a sled loaded with water-testing equipment failed, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

The team had to scale back its ambitions and measure ice thickness the old-fashioned way. In some places they found it was barely 6-feet thick, half of what they expected.

By May, the ice was on the move. One night, it was so violent the team had to break camp.

Finally, plagued with frostbite and frozen sleeping bags, they gave up only halfway to the Pole.

This week in London, Catlin released its results, fending off accusations that such a flawed expedition couldn't produce good science.

But for scientists who rely on satellite or submarine data, Catlin says its measurement is unique.

"The scientists really have a lack of what you might call relatively accurate absolute measurements, what they would call direct observations, made from the surface at the surface, down through the snow, ice cover and the ice layer below," said expedition leader Pen Hadow.

Eminent climate scientists agree that the data supports a growing consensus that the polar ice cap is in dramatic retreat.

"The conclusions from this work and from other measurements that have been done, and from new models, are that the summer ice will disappear within twenty to thirty years, and a lot of it will be gone within 10 years," said Professor Peter Wadhams, with the University of Cambridge Polar Ocean Physics Group.

The good news is that it will open up new shipping lanes. The bad news is that polar ice helps keep the planet cool by reflecting the sun. Once it's gone, it is likely global warming will speed up.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."