Every year there is a little less summer sea ice in the Arctic, which begs then question: when will the sea ice be gone? It may be sooner than we thought. A recent study published in the Geophysical Research Letters indicates that the summer sea ice may be gone by 2050, and could even be a thing of the past as early as 2020.
James Overland and Muyin Wang of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used three different approaches to predict Arctic ice melt. The study methods included extrapolation of sea ice volume data, assuming that we will experience several more rapid loss years such as 2007 and 2012, and climate model projections. Regardless of the model used, the evidence suggests that summer sea ice could be gone within a few decades, the first model indicating that sea ice could be gone by 2020 and the last model showing that it could take until 2040 or so.
It is likely that the sea ice along Greenland and the northern area of Canada will remain even as the sea ice in Arctic is melting, so the area won’t be completely devoid of ice for the time being. But understanding the changing Arctic will allow us to prepare and adapt to the new environment. According to Overland, “Rapid Arctic sea ice loss is probably the most visible indicator of global climate change; it leads to shifts in ecosystems and economic access, and potentially impacts weather throughout the northern hemisphere.”
images from NASA