Arctic sea ice could vanish within 10 years as it is melting much faster than previously believed, thanks to global warming, warn scientists, claiming that the process is 50 percent faster than the current estimates.

New satellites being operated by the European Space Agency paint a grim picture of 900 cubic km of ice already having melted over the last year.

This is 50 percent higher than the current estimates from environmentalists, they claim. It is suggested that the increase is down to global warming and rising greenhouse gas emissions, the Daily Mail reports.

The entire region could be eventually free of ice if the estimates prove accurate. This would trigger a ‘gold rush’ for oil reserves and fish stocks in the region.

“Preliminary analysis of our data indicates that the rate of loss of sea ice volume in summer in the Arctic may be far larger than we had previously suspected,” said Seymour Laxon, of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL), where CryoSat-2 data is being analysed.

Scientists launched the CryoSat-2 probe in 2010 specifically to study ice thickness. Until then most studies had focused on the coverage of the ice. Submarines were also sent into the water to analyse the ice. The methods are said to have given a picture of changes in the ice around the North Pole since 2004.

Data from the exploration shows that in winter 2004, the volume of sea ice in the central Arctic was approximately 17,000 cubic km. This winter it was 14,000 km, according to CryoSat.

Chris Rapley, professor at UCL added: “Before CryoSat, we could see summer ice coverage was dropping markedly in the Arctic. But we only had glimpses of what was happening to ice thickness. Obviously if it was dropping as well, the loss of summer ice was even more significant.”