Ice cover in the Arctic Sea is shrinking at a rapid rate and scientists warn that it could be completely gone by 2050.
According to polar researchers from the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC), Arctic sea ice has shrunk by 40% since scientists first began measuring it in 1979, and it is now only half as thick. Researchers from the MOSAIC expedition are trying to determine how natural and human-causes are impacting the rapid loss of sea ice. A warming climate is certainly at the root of the problem, and the Artic is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth.
“The really warm summer in the Arctic has really had its impact on the ice,” said Prof. Markus Rex, an atmospheric scientist from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and expedition leader of MOSAiC, to Carbon Brief.
As the climate warms, less sea ice survives from year-to-year, reducing the size and thickness of the Arctic ice. For researchers on the MOSAiC expedition, they hope their measurements will provide insight into climate models used to make projections about Arctic sea ice. The scientists are trying to understand the interactions between changes to sunlight, the sea ice, and the atmosphere in order to answer our questions about the future of Arctic sea ice.
“There hasn’t been a lot of improvement in how our models have represented declining sea ice over the last couple of decades,” said Dr. Matthew Shupe, co-leader of MOSAiC and an Arctic researcher from the University of Colorado, Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to Carbon Brief. “So our top level goal is improving models.”
Improvements in current climate models could help predict future ice decline, and if the Arctic could see its first “ice-free” summer with ice below one million square kilometers.
Determining when the Arctic will have its first ice-free summer is difficult to forecast because there are many natural and human-created variables. However, the majority of climate models indicate that it could happen around the middle of this century.
If Artic sea ice cover falls to zero in the summer it will have serious environmental consequences, said Dr. Marika Holland, a senior sea ice scientist at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), to Carbon Brief. She added: “Reaching an ice-free Arctic summer is just a further exclamation point, emphasizing that this is happening and it is dramatic and unprecedented. But from my perspective, the changes are already dramatic and unprecedented – and we can’t lose sight of that.”
To see an interactive map showing the shrinking Arctic Sea ice, click HERE.