The trending loss of ice in the Arctic has been seen as one of the most prominent outcomes of the 20th century warming, but in the next few decades it could as easily grow as it could continue to shrink, according to new research.
The research was conducted by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and used the Community Climate System Model – one of the most powerful computer climate models. In the end, the simulations showed that the level of Arctic sea ice loss was not wholly the result of warming, but ran hand in hand with climate variability. Additionally, the research showed that if climate change continues, the ice will eventually disappear entirely during summer.
However, the surprising result of the simulations was the possibility that the Arctic ice may expand in the future.
“One of the results that surprised us all was the number of computer simulations that indicated a temporary halt to the loss of the ice,” says NCAR scientist Jennifer Kay, the lead author. “The computer simulations suggest that we could see a 10-year period of stable ice or even a slight increase in the extent of the ice. Even though the observed ice loss has accelerated over the last decade, the fate of sea ice over the next decade depends not only on human activity but also on climate variability that cannot be predicted.”
Kay explains that variations in atmospheric conditions such as wind patterns could, for example, temporarily halt the sea ice loss. Still, the ultimate fate of the ice in a warming world is clear.
“When you start looking at longer-term trends, 50 or 60 years, there’s no escaping the loss of ice in the summer,” Kay says.
The study appears in the most recent edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.