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For scientists studying summer sea ice in the Arctic, it’s not a question of “if” there will be nearly ice-free summers, but “when.” And two scientists say that “when” is sooner than many thought — before 2050 and possibly within the next decade or two.
Two researchers with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, James Overland of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and Muyin Wang of the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington, looked at three methods of predicting when the Arctic will be nearly ice free in the summer.
Their work, published recently online by the American Geophysical Union, shows that “all three approaches […] suggest nearly sea ice-free summers in the Arctic before the middle of this century.” Overland and Wang emphasized that the term “nearly” ice free is important as some sea ice is expected to remain north of the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland.
“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,” Overland explained. “Improved models of what to expect [are needed] so we can better prepare and adapt to such changes. Early loss of Arctic sea ice gives immediacy to the issue of climate change.”