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Dec 6, 2012 12:10 PM by NBC News

Arctic report card

There is an almost haunting beauty to the barren fields of snow and ice that stretch for miles across the arctic, but scientists say the picture there is changing.

The landscape is slowly, but steadily, melting away.

"If we are not already there, we are certainly on the verge of seeing a new arctic," said Martin Jeffries, co-editor of Arctic Report Card and program officer at Office of Naval Research.

In an on-line Web conference on Wednesday, NOAA released its latest data on arctic conditions.

The data shows a continuing increase in water temperatures and all-time record lows in the amount of snow and ice in the region.

"We can expect to see continued widespread and sustained change, with new record highs and new record lows, depending on the variable you are looking at throughout the arctic system," said Jeffries.

Ninety-seven-percent of the ice sheet governing Greenland thawed this July, which is another record.

That area is losing ice five-times faster than it was in the early 90s.

"We know that melting ice in Greenland can contribute to sea level rise around the world," said Jane Lubchenco, U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans & Atmosphere.

In the last two decades, those levels have grown by 20 percent.

It's a trend that scientists say long-term could be devastating.

"Most of the people around the world live in coastal areas. It's where most of your major cities are because that's where ports are and they are at sea level so even small changes in sea level rise can displace millions of people," said NASA Cryosphere Program scientist, Thomas Wagner.

More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the coast.



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