Summer sea ice in the Arctic covers less than half the area it covered in the early 1980s and may not last until 2100
A new study from Columbia University determined that summer sea ice in ‘the last ice zone‘now covers half the space it did 40 years ago.
Historically, the 1,200-mile region north of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago has been covered in ice throughout the year, but rising temperatures brought on by climate change are causing even this remote region to melt during the summer.
Researchers say that summer sea ice will be ‘dramatically thin’ by 2050, endangering the polar bears, walruses, seals and other Arctic creatures that make it their habitat.
If carbon emissions continue at the current rate, they add, summer sea ice will be completely gone by 2100.
“If the ice disappears all year long, entire ice-dependent ecosystems will collapse and something new will begin,” said Robert Newton, a research scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. said in a statement.
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The Last Ice Area, where sea ice traditionally remains frozen throughout the year, has lost 40 percent of its area since the early 1980s.
The surface of the Arctic Ocean still continues to freeze in winter ‘and will likely do so for the foreseeable future, even as the weather warms,’ according to a statement from Columbia University.
Ice in the region can grow more than three feet thick in a single winter, up to 10 to 12 feet if it survives multiple summers.
In summer, some melting in parts of the Arctic is normal: it creates open water channels that allow the ice to travel great distances and be expelled in the last ice zone.
Here on the northernmost shores of the Arctic, the accumulation of ice can create 30-foot-high layers that can remain undisturbed for a decade or more before breaking up.
A map of the Arctic with the last ice area indicated in red. The Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area, which covers the central third of the region, is shown in purple.
That allows for a ‘rich marine ecosystem’, say the authors, which includes photosynthetic plankton, eaten by Arctic fish; These fish become prey for seals, which are hunted by polar bears.
The unforgiving landscape keeps humans at bay and has historically prevented the exploitation of natural resources.
However, the Arctic Ocean is now forming progressively thinner ice, according to the report, which appears in the magazine. Future of the Earth.
Come summer, it is melting faster in increasingly open waters, sending fewer and fewer icy masses to the Last Ice Zone.
In August 2020, satellite imagery showed a record low of just 50 percent of the sea ice concentration in the Wandel Sea, a part of the last ice zone that stretches from northeast Greenland to Svalbard.
Arctic polar bears (pictured) are forced to migrate due to less sea ice in the last ice zone
Even if industrialized nations curb carbon emissions, the researchers said, ice that has years to freeze will become a thing of the past by the middle of this century.
The locally formed summer ice will continue, they add, but will only be a few feet thick.
By 2100, even that will be gone, as will the rich marine ecosystem of the Last Ice Area.
“This is not to say that it will be a lifeless and sterile environment,” Newton said. “ New things will emerge, but it may take some time for new creatures to invade. ”
A graph indicating that summer sea ice could completely disappear from the last ice zone by 2100
Two years ago, the Canadian government designated a 123,600-square-mile area encompassing the central third of the Last Ice Area as a protected area, banning mining, transportation, and other development for at least five years.
“The rest of the region lies within the Canadian Northwest Territories, which are pro-mining, which has so far resisted declaring protection, and off Greenland, which has so far been elusive,” according to the statement.
Even if industrialized nations curb carbon emissions, the researchers say, ice that has years to freeze will become a thing of the past by the middle of this century. Pictured: Polarstern research vessel adrift on Arctic sea ice
Preserving the last ice zone will require the creation of other protected areas in the Arctic, the researcher said, especially since the open ocean areas attract companies looking to drill for oil and minerals.
The new report follows another study, published in July in the journal Communications Earth and environment, which also underscored the threat the last ice zone was under due to climate change.
Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle looked at sea ice levels last summer in the Wandel Sea.
On August 14, 2020, satellite images showed a record low of only 50 percent concentration of sea ice in the sea, a part of the Last Ice Zone that stretches from northeast Greenland to Svalbard.
The researchers used satellite data and sea ice models to determine what caused last summer’s record low, finding that about 80 percent was due to weather-related factors, such as winds breaking up and moving the ice.
But a fifth was due to long-term thinning of sea ice due to global warming.
The models they developed simulated the period from June 1 to August 16, 2020 and found unusual winds that pulled sea ice out of the area, but the multi-year thinning trend also contributed, allowing more sunlight to warm the ocean. .
Then when the winds picked up, this warm water was able to melt nearby ice.
COOLING FACTOR: WHAT IS THE LAST ICE ZONE OF THE ARCTIC?
The Last Ice Area is believed to be home to the oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic.
It is in a region located north of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Some open water on the outskirts of Last Ice Area
This area is a safe haven for ice-loving animals, such as polar bears, and is often covered in ice throughout the year.
It is beginning to crumble due to rising temperatures in the region caused by climate change, according to scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle.
As in other parts of the Arctic Ocean, the ice here has been gradually thinning, although last spring’s sea ice was on average slightly thicker than in previous years.
The Last Ice Area was one of the last places animals were able to seek shelter, but experts say it is unlikely to continue to offer ice year-round.