TUKTOYAKTUK, Northwest Territories — The Arctic Ocean has given up tens of thousands more square miles of ice in a relentless summer of melt, with scientists watching through satellite eyes for a possible record low polar ice cap.
From the barren Arctic shore of this village in Canada's far northwest, 1,500 miles north of Seattle, veteran observer Eddie Gruben has seen the summer ice retreating more each decade as the world has warmed.
By this weekend the ice edge lay some 80 miles at sea. "Forty years ago, it was 40 miles out," said Gruben, 89, patriarch of a local contracting business.
Global average temperatures rose 1 degree in the past century, but Arctic temperatures rose twice as much or even faster, almost certainly in good part because of man-made greenhouse gases, researchers say.
In late July the mercury soared to almost 86 degrees in this settlement of 900 Inuvialuit, the name for western Arctic Eskimos.
"The water was really warm," Gruben said. "The kids were swimming in the ocean."
As of Thursday, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported, the polar ice cap extended over 2.61 million square miles after having shrunk an average 41,000 square miles a day in July, equivalent to one Indiana or three Belgiums daily.
The rate of melt was similar to that of July 2007, the year when the ice cap dwindled to a record low minimum extent of 1.7 million square miles in September.
In July, "we saw acceleration in loss of ice," the U.S. center's Walt Meier said. In recent days the pace has slowed, making a record-breaking final minimum "less likely but still possible," he said.