DOHA, Qatar -- An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the United States melted this year, according the United Nations weather agency, which said the dramatic decline illustrates that climate change is happening "before our eyes."
In a report released at the UN climate talks, the World Meteorological Organization said the Arctic ice melt was one of myriad extreme and record-breaking weather events to hit the planet in 2012. Droughts devastated nearly two-thirds of the United States, and western Russia and southern Europe. Floods swamped West Africa, and heat waves left much of the Northern Hemisphere sweltering.
But it was the ice melt that seemed to dominate the annual climate report, with the UN concluding ice cover had reached "a new record low" in the area around the North Pole and that the loss from March to September was a staggering 4.57 million square miles.
"The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth's oceans and biosphere," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. "Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records."
The dire climate news -- following on the heels of a report Tuesday that found melting permafrost could significantly amplify global warming -- comes as delegates from nearly 200 countries struggled for a third day to lay the groundwork for a deal to cut emissions to try to ensure that temperatures don't rise more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over what they were in preindustrial times. Temperatures have already risen about 1.4 degrees F, according to the latest report by the IPCC.