I know it's like a punch in the stomach, but there's no getting around it. The news is this: The Arctic may be ice-free by 2030, even if we start cutting emissions significantly. It is the bitter conclusion of a recent study published in Nature, that I link to you here.
And it's a darker and more urgent alarm than most scientists anticipated.
A systematic review
Driven by Yeon Hee Kim from South Korea's Pohang University of Science and Technology, researchers analyzed data from 1979 to 2019 to project sea ice decline in the Arctic.
Conclusion? Human-caused emissions are the main driver of sea ice loss, and an ice-free September XNUMX could be just around the corner.
The Arctic is a sleeping giant. And global warming is waking it up much faster than any other region on our planet.
Arctic, a silent catastrophe
Scientists are focusing on the sea ice sheet that covers much of the Arctic Ocean during winter. This layer of frozen seawater, thin as a pizza crust, changes size throughout the year, reaching its lowest point in September.
And there's more. Ice that survives the summer is known as "multiyear ice," thicker than seasonal ice. It works as a kind of lid, limiting the exchange of moisture and heat between the ocean and the atmosphere. Over the past forty years, the surface of this multi-year ice it's gone down seven to four million square kilometers.
The Arctic Ocean, in summary, could become technically ice-free in the summer, a condition that occurs when sea ice falls below one million square kilometers. That's why researchers are trying to figure out when exactly this phenomenon might occur.
The coming climate crisis
This new study represents a clear contrast to the latest report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC he said that the Arctic would likely become "virtually ice-free" by mid-century, based on intermediate and high emissions scenarios. However, the study just published in Nature proposes a more forward-looking agenda, regardless of the scenarios emission.
What does an ice-free Arctic Ocean mean? It means accelerating global warming by reducing the amount of sunlight absorbed by the ocean – a process known as positive feedback. This may in turn accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which is already a major driver of sea level rise. Sea ice loss can also change the biological activity of the ocean.
"We need to prepare for a world with a warmer Arctic very soon," said the research author. "Because the warming Arctic is predicted to lead to weather extremes such as heat waves, wildfires and floods in the upper-mid northern latitudes, the earlier onset of an ice-free Arctic implies we could experience extreme events faster than expected."
In other words: we dance. We're in it, definitely.