A new scientific study reveals that the Arctic could experience its first summer without floating sea ice in the 2030s, about a decade earlier than previously predicted. These peer-reviewed findings, published Tuesday by Nature magazine.
They indicate that this climate change milestone could occur even if nations take more decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Previous research suggested that stronger action to curb global warming could preserve summer ice in the Arctic.. However, this new study suggests that only drastic and significant reductions in emissions could reverse the effects of warming that are already underway.
Dirk Notz, a climate scientist at the University of Hamburg and one of the study’s authors, said that “we are about to rapidly lose the Arctic summer sea ice cover, basically no matter what we do. We have waited too long to take action against climate change and protect the remaining ice.”
The researchers analyzed changes from 1979 to 2019, comparing different satellite data and climate models to assess how Arctic sea ice was changing. They found that the decline in sea ice was largely the result of man-made pollution warming the planet.and previous models had underestimated Arctic sea ice melt trends.
The decline in sea ice in recent decades has had consequences not only in the Arctic region, but also in communities, ecosystems and economies around the world. The reduction in sea ice causes an increase in the rate of warming of the Arctic, as sea ice reflects solar radiation back into space. This also accelerates the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which contributes to global sea level rise.
The temperature difference between the North Pole and the Equator also affects storm tracks and wind speeds in the mid-latitudes, which means that the warming of the Arctic may have impacts in the temperate zones of North America, Europe and Asia, such as extreme rains and heat waves.
The study warns that the loss of sea ice in the Arctic has been accelerating, and the amplification of the Arctic will come faster and more intensely. The first September in which all the floating ice in the Arctic Ocean actually melts, even partially, is considered a significant milestone.. It is expected to occur when the September ice extent falls below one million square kilometres, which is less than 15% of the minimum ice cover recorded in the 1970s.
The researchers used satellite measurements and climate models to project future changes in sea ice. under different scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions. They found that under three of the scenarios, September sea ice could drop below the critical threshold by the 2030s. Even in the scenario where emissions stopped around 2070, sea ice would continue to decline rapidly.
Although this first summer without sea ice in the Arctic will be a major scientific milestone, it will not be a turning point in and of itself. The Arctic has undergone significant changes in recent decades, affecting polar bears, shipping lanes, access to natural resources, and geopolitics. As the Arctic ice continues to disappear, the impacts will continue to grow.