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Loss of Arctic sea ice

August 2020: Melt ponds in the Arctic are causing sea ice to melt at an accelerated rate, suggesting that Arctic summers will be ice free by 2035. This may lead to sea level rises, changes in ocean currents and global weather patterns that can lead to floods, storms, costal erosion, and infrastructure destruction.

Information

New evidence suggests that Arctic summers could be free of sea ice by 2035, bringing recent estimates forward. During spring and early summer, sunlight melts the upper layers of ice and causes shallow pools of water to collect. These melt ponds are responsible for the Arctic’s ‘albedo’ – its capacity to reflect or absorb sunlight. The more water melt ponds collect, the more heat is absorbed by the sea ice, which causes it to melt further and, in turn absorb more heat. Modelling sea-ice melt based on data from the last Interglacial and including melt ponds suggests that Arctic summers may be sea-ice free as soon as 2035.

Implications and opportunities

Prospects of an ice-free Arctic, particularly during summer, significantly increases the risks of storms, high waves, and flooding due to sea level rises. In addition, it accelerates coastal erosion and endangers coastal communities. Further to the destabilisation of local infrastructure, Arctic sea ice reflects solar heat back into the ocean and protects oceans from extensive warming. Without sea ice, global weather patterns and ocean currents may change to unpredictable levels. Efforts to reduce GHG emissions should be intensified and governments should aim to build resilience and adaptation capacities, particularly in coastal communities.

Limitations

The Arctic is one of the least understood regions on the planet and results of climate models should be seen as indication rather than firm conclusions. Further research and monitoring will be required to confirm warming patterns in the Arctic.


Sources

Guarino, M.-V., Sime, et.al. (2020). Sea-ice-free Arctic during the Last Interglacial supports fast future loss. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/s41558-020-0865-2 

Borunda, A., (2020). Arctic summer sea ice could disappear as early as 2035. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/08/arctic-summer-sea-ice-could-be-gone-by-2035/

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.