Bringing the Ocean to Society
14 Aug 2020
The Arctic may be free of sea ice by 2035
One of the world's most advanced climate models shows how urgent it is to achieve a low-carbon planet.

As reported by Science Daily, a new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, supports predictions that the Arctic could be free of sea ice by 2035.

High temperatures in the Arctic during the last interglacial - the warm period around 127,000 years ago - have puzzled scientists for decades. Now the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre climate model has enabled an international team of researchers to compare Arctic sea ice conditions during the last interglacial with the present day. Their findings are important for improving predictions of future sea ice change.

During spring and early summer, shallow pools of water form on the surface of Arctic sea-ice. These "melt ponds" are important for how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space. The new Hadley Centre model is the UK's most advanced physical representation of the Earth's climate and a critical tool for climate research and incorporates sea-ice and melt ponds.

Using the model to look at Arctic sea ice during the last interglacial, the team concludes that the impact of intense springtime sunshine created many melt ponds, which played a crucial role in the sea-ice melt. A simulation of the future using the same model indicates that the Arctic may become sea ice-free by 2035.

Joint lead author Dr Maria Vittoria Guarino, Earth System Modeller at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), says:

"High temperatures in the Arctic have puzzled scientists for decades. Unravelling this mystery was technically and scientifically challenging. For the first time, we can begin to see how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial. 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."

Dr Louise Sime, the group head of the Palaeoclimate group and joint lead author at BAS, says:

"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. The prospect of a loss of sea-ice by 2035 should really be focussing all our minds ."

Dr David Schroeder and Prof Danny Feltham from the University of Reading, who developed and co-led the implementation of the melt pond scheme in the climate model, say:

"This shows just how important sea-ice processes like melt ponds are in the Arctic, and why it is crucial that they are incorporated into climate models."

The Arctic, INTAROS and EurOcean

The Arctic is undergoing the most rapid changes in the climate system worldwide. Such changes have global and regional implications including extreme weather, sea-level change, coastal erosion, natural hazards and changes in the ecosystem. Moreover, these changes impact severely on people´s living conditions in the Arctic. In 2019, the Arctic received plenty of attention after the release of the IPCC “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate”. In order to ensure sustainable development in the Arctic, it is necessary to collect more data and build up knowledge of its climate and environment.

INTAROS is a H2020 project that started in 2016 and during six years will contribute to the development of an integrated Arctic Observation System (iAOS) by extending, improving and unifying existing systems in the different regions of the Arctic. INTAROS will support the implementation of the EU's Arctic Policy. The project has a strong multidisciplinary focus, with tools for integration of data from atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and terrestrial sciences, provided by institutions in Europe, North America and Asia. The iAOS will enable better-informed decisions and better-documented processes within key sectors (e.g. local communities, shipping, tourism, fisheries), in order to strengthen the societal and economic role of the Arctic region and support the EU strategy for the Arctic and related maritime and environmental policies.

To find out more about INTAROS, please visit the project’s website, follow its Twitter and Facebook accounts, and subscribe to its newsletter.

EurOcean contributes to INTAROS as co-lead for Dissemination and Communication. EurOcean has developed the INTAROS visual identity, public website and social media channels as well as a selection of branded materials. EurOcean also provides support for capacity building and engagement across a broad range of levels from international organisations to European agencies, national and local governments, communities and early career stage researchers.

Original news article by Science Daily.

Original research paper published on Nature Climate Change.