In a new studio Published today in the journal The Cryosphere, a team of researchers extrapolated how temperature, snowfall and the movement of ice floes can affect snow accumulation.
The results that come out are not at all reassuring: the sea ice that covers much of the Arctic seems to be thinning twice than previously thought.
A more accurate calculation method than ever.
Previously, we had to rely on data collected from Soviet expeditions to frozen sea ice masses between 1965 and 1991.
The new computer model, which estimated snow cover from 2002 to 2018, is much more detailed because it is based on a greater amount of data, and more up-to-date.
Also for this reason, the data on the rate of melting of the ice is a worrying sign. And it confirms that the effects of climate change could accelerate at an alarming rate.
Snow is an important factor in judging the health of ice shelves in the Arctic, but it is difficult to track because it is invisible to satellite radars.
"Sea ice thickness is a sensitive indicator of Arctic health, and when the Arctic warms, the world warms," says lead author Robbie Mallett of University College London.
"Sea ice started forming later in the year, so the snow on top has less time to accumulate," Mallett said. "Our calculations take this decrease in snow depth into account for the first time."
Thinning of the ice will aggravate a number of concomitant problems
“The thicker ice acts as an insulating blanket, preventing the ocean from warming the atmosphere in the winter and protecting it from the sun in the summer,” added Mallett. "The thinner the ice, the less likely it is to survive the Arctic summer melt."
Researchers believe rapid changes in the Arctic could also contribute to extreme weather events, including droughts and floods in the Northern Hemisphere.
With the melting of large masses of ice, shipping routes are becoming shorter and shorter. In February, a merchant ship made its first visit to winter a round trip in Siberia between China and Europe.
This also means a greater risk of oil spills in the Arctic, according to Mallett.
Scientists, however, are optimistic that the new monitoring models could allow them to better predict the long-term effects climate change is having on the Arctic and possibly ways to slow sea ice disappearance.