Arctic sea ice could be completely gone by 2035, new study predicts
TORONTO -- Arctic sea ice could be completely gone by 2035, according to a new study that compared present day conditions with those during the last interglacial period some 127,000 years ago.
The findings, published in Nature Climate Change, are important for helping predict future climate change patterns, researchers said.
“The advances made in climate modelling means that we can create a more accurate simulation of the Earth's past climate, which, in turn gives us greater confidence in model predictions for the future,” said joint lead author Maria Vittoria Guarino with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), in a statement.
Guarino said that scientists have been trying to solve the mystery of high temperatures in the Arctic during the last interglacial for decades. Using the U.K. Met Office’s Hadley Centre climate model, researchers were able to see how the Arctic sea ice -- frozen ocean water that forms and melts in the ocean -- completely melted during that period.
Interglacial is the geological period between an “ice age,” when large, continental ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere have melted, according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Earth is currently in an interglacial period called Holocene.
"We know the Arctic is undergoing significant changes as our planet warms. By understanding what happened during Earth's last warm period we are in a better position to understand what will happen in the future,” said Louise Sime, also a joint lead author with BAS.
“The prospect of loss of sea ice by 2035 should really be focusing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible.”
Sea ice is different from icebergs, glaciers, and ice shelves, which originate on land, and is important because it helps control global climate, according to the National Snow and ice Data Centre (NSIDC). When sunlight hits sea ice, 80 per cent of it gets reflected back into space, NSIDC says. But when the sea ice melts in the summer, shallow pools of water, or “melt ponds” are created. They impact how much sunlight gets absorbed and how much gets reflected back into space. When more sunlight is absorbed, it heats the ocean and pushes the Arctic temperature higher.
Based on the Hadley Centre model, described as one of the most advanced physical representations of the Earth’s climate, researchers found that strong sunlight in the spring created many melt ponds during the last interglacial, which had an important role in sea ice melt. A simulation using the same model looking at future patterns instead, supported the prediction of a “fast retreat of future Arctic summer sea ice,” the study concluded.