Arctic Sea Ice Could Vanish by the 2030s, Decade Earlier Than Projected

If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current rate, the Arctic will experience a complete disappearance of sea ice in the 2030s. Even with efforts to reduce emissions, an ice-free Arctic is projected to occur no later than the 2050s, a decade earlier than previously projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A joint research team from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Environment Climate Change Canada, and Universit├Ąt Hamburg conducted a study projecting the timing of Arctic sea ice depletion. Regardless of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the team’s findings suggest that an ice-free Arctic is possible between the 2030s and 2050s. The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

The Earth has experienced a rapid decline in the area covered by Arctic sea ice due to increasing temperatures over the past few decades. This reduction in sea ice has contributed to accelerated Arctic warming, which, in turn, is believed to be linked to more frequent extreme weather events in mid-latitude regions.

To predict the timing of Arctic sea ice depletion, the research team analyzed 41 years of data from 1979 to 2019. Their analysis, comparing multiple model simulations with satellite observational datasets, confirmed that the primary cause of the decline is attributed to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. The impact of aerosols, solar activity, and volcanic activities was found to be minimal. The analysis showed that increased greenhouse gas emissions lead to a reduction in Arctic sea ice throughout the year, regardless of the season, with September exhibiting the smallest extent of sea ice reduction.

Furthermore, the research revealed that previous climate models used by the IPCC underestimated the declining trend of sea ice area. Adjusting the simulation values based on the observed decline rates, the team demonstrated accelerated ice decline across all scenarios. The results indicate the possibility of complete Arctic sea ice disappearance by the 2050s, even with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, this finding implies that achieving carbon neutrality alone may not prevent the extinction of Arctic sea ice.

The accelerated decline of Arctic sea ice, occurring faster than previously anticipated, is expected to have significant global impacts. The reduction of sea ice can lead to more frequent occurrences of extreme weather events, such as severe cold waves, heatwaves, and heavy rainfall worldwide. The thawing of the Siberian permafrost in the Arctic region could further intensify global warming. These changes pose challenges to human societies and ecosystems on a global scale.

Professor Seung-Ki Min, the study’s lead researcher, highlighted the urgency of the situation, emphasizing that an ice-free Arctic may occur earlier than projected. The study calls for evaluating the various climate change impacts resulting from the disappearance of Arctic sea ice and developing adaptation measures alongside efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

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