The Arctic sea might be seasonally ice-free earlier than we thought

The Arctic sea ice’s near future might look different than we thought. A new study focused on the near future of the ice in the Arctic region.

Under different emissions scenarios the study shows that we might witness a seasonally ice-free Arctic in the coming decade, earlier than scientists previously believed.

Arctic sea ice under climate change 

The Arctic, the northernmost region of the globe, has been significantly affected by climate change, as shown in the 2022 study by researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute, which revealed that the area has been warming four times faster than the rest of the planet since 1979. The region’s ocean is rich in ice, with 10.96 million square kilometers as of June 2023. The way this ice behaves, too, is changing under the influence of the climate crisis. Typically, Arctic ice forms in the winter, melts during warmer months in the so-called “summer melt,” and hits its lowest points in September to start building up again as the colder months come.

The Arctic ice minimum yearly extent is changing, though. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), because of global warming, the Arctic sea ice extent in the month of September has been decreasing by twelve-point-six percent per decade.

The Nature Communications study 

The study titled “Observationally-constrained projections of an ice-free Arctic even under a low emission scenario” was carried out by researchers from Pohang University of Science and Technology, the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis (CCCma), and the Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN).

In this study published on Tuesday, the sixth of June 2023, in the journal Nature Communications, the international team of scientists analyzed the changes in the Arctic sea ice area (SIA) observed during the last 41 years, from 1979 to 2019, by comparing satellite observations with CMIP6 multi-model simulations.

The analysis conducted in this study reveals that all three observational data sets indicate a considerable decrease in the Arctic sea ice area (SIA) throughout the year. By comparing the observations with the simulations, the study finds that greenhouse gas (GHG) increases are the main driver of the observed decline in Arctic SIA.

In addition, while according to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), the Arctic is projected to be largely ice-free in September by the middle of the century under high and intermediate greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, but not under low emissions scenarios, the picture portrayed but this new study is different.

Arctic ice
The scientists analyzed the changes in the Arctic sea ice area (SIA) observed during the last 41 years by comparing satellite observations with CMIP6 multi-model simulations.
© Annie Spratt/Unsplash

In fact, from this study, it emerges that September will be an ice-free month regardless of the considered scenario, with the study’s results suggesting that the Arctic will experience its first ice-free September as early as the 2030s to 2050s in all the emission scenarios with consequences that would be felt beyond the Arctic region.

The amount of emissions generated in the future can still impact the Arctic ice. Additionally, from the study, it emerged that under higher emissions scenarios later in the current century, an ice-free Arctic could occur in the early summer months.

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