Arctic sea could be ‘ice-free’ by the 2030s

News Excerpt:

A new study by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder has warned that the Arctic Ocean sea ice is melting at an even faster pace than previously thought — and the region could experience its first ice-free conditions sometime before the 2030s.

Observations of the study:

  • Sea ice could disappear during some summer days in the Arctic within the next few years.
    • Greenhouse gas emissions are the main contributors to sea ice loss. 
    • GHGs cause the increase in the  amount of heat absorbed by the ocean 
  • The frequency at which ice-free conditions occur could vary depending on future warming levels. 
    • For instance, if ice-free conditions occur for warming of 1.5 °C, they are unlikely to reoccur for several decades.
    • But if warming exceeds 2°C or 3°C, September ice-free conditions would likely re-occur every two or three years or almost every year, respectively.
    • And if temperatures stay within the 1.5 °C mark or only exceed this limit for a short time, there is a less than 10% chance that the Arctic will not become ice-free.
  • The study also said that the Arctic is resilient and can bounce back to normalcy if the atmosphere cools down.
  • Under the world’s current path, which researchers refer to as an “intermediate emissions scenario”, the Arctic Ocean might become ice-free by mid-century from August to October.
  • In the worst-case, highest-emissions scenario, the Arctic, which is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, could become ice-free nine months a year, including during some the winter.
    • This would transform the Arctic into a completely different environment, from a white summer Arctic to a blue Arctic.
  • An ice-free Arctic Ocean is not entirely free of ice but defined as having less than 1 million square km (386,000 square miles) of coverage.
    • That is less than 20% of the region’s seasonal minimum ice cover in the 1980s.

Impact of Ice free Arctic:

  • Declining levels of sea ice have a significant impact on Arctic animals that rely on it for survival, such as seals and polar bears
  • In addition, as the ocean warms up, researchers are concerned that non-native fish could move into the Arctic Ocean causing an adverse effect on the ecosystem.
  • The loss of sea ice also poses a risk to the communities living near the coastal region.
    • Sea ice acts as a buffer to ocean waves crashing on to coastal land.
    • As the ice retreats, ocean waves are set to get bigger, causing more coastal erosion.
  • Arctic sea ice is an important component of the climate system. 
    • As the Arctic reflects the sunlight, it dramatically reduces the amount of sunlight absorbed by the ocean
      • Removing this ice is predicted to further accelerate warming, through a process known as positive feedback. 
      • This, in turn, will make the Greenland ice sheet melt faster, which is already a major contributor to sea level rise.
  • The loss of sea ice in summer would also mean changes in atmospheric circulation and storm tracks, and fundamental shifts in ocean biological activity.

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