Future Not Bright for Arctic Ice

1694367345_1857bf87f8“When you look in detail at the science behind the recent Arctic changes it becomes painfully clear how our understanding of climate impacts lags behind the changes that we are already seeing in the Arctic,” warned Martin Sommerkorn, one of the authors of a new report from conservation group the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

This report adds weight to a growing number of reports and findings that are pointing to 2008’s summer as a turning point for the Arctic region; one where there could be no sea-ice at all.

According to the WWF’s report (PDF); “Recently observed changes are happening at rates significantly faster than predicted” by the 2005 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) and last year’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This has led many experts to believe that we are close to a “tipping point,” where if something is not done immediately, sudden and irreversible changes could take place.

Mark Serreze, of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is similarly wary of the next summer to hit the Northern Hemisphere, saying that “The set-up for this summer is disturbing.”

dn13779-2_800In a New Scientist article, Serreze notes that, though the ice has expanded to a size greater this March than March 07, it is made up primarily of very young ice, and on average, is declining by 44,000 km2 per year (see graph to left).This is essentially just as bad as there being less ice growth, young ice is not able to withstand the rigors cast upon it during a summer that older ice is.

“There is this thin first-year ice even at the North Pole at the moment,” says Serreze. “This raises the spectre – the possibility that you could become ice free at the North Pole this year.”

Despite all reports though – and be wary of anything you hear in the popular media – a North Pole without sea ice is not in itself significant. To scientists, Serreze notes, “this is just another point on the globe” The worrying point is the lack of multi-year ice buildup.

For example, on average, each year around half of the first year ice formed between September and March, melts during the summer. Or, looking at it from the other side, half stays around for another year. In 2007, almost all of that first year ice disappeared.

Worse for summer ’08 is the fact that the atmospheric phenomenon known as the Arctic oscillation kicked in to its “positive” phase during this past winter. The AO is known to generate winds which push multi-year ice out of the Arctic, and along the east coast of Greenland.

All in all, unless we acquire ourselves a “cooler, more cyclonic pattern” these next few months, we’re going to lose a lot of that ice.

Graph courtesy of NSIDC

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