NASA study: year-round Arctic sea ice may vanish


The great-grandchildren of today’s Nunavummiut may end up living in a radically different natural environment than the one we know today.

A new study published in October by researchers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration predicts the unthinkable: that year-round Arctic sea-ice may vanish by the end of this century.

Their work, based on satellite data gathered between 1978 and 2000, shows that if current melt rates continue, there may be year-round sea-ice in the Arctic by 2099.

They also found that temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a rate of 1.2 C per decade, and that sea-ice is now melting at a rate that’s about nine per cent faster than shown by prior research.

“If the perennial ice cover, which consists mainly of thick multi-year ice floes, disapears, the entire Arctic Ocean climate and ecology would become very different,” Josefino Comiso, the author of the study, told the Environmental News Service.

The NASA study says that the rate of sea-ice decline in the Arctic is expected to accelerate because of interactions between the ice, oceans and the atmosphere. As temperatures in the Arctic rise, the summer ice cover retreats, more solar heat gets absorbed by the ocean, and more ice gets melted by a warmer upper water layer.

In turn, this will produce more climate change in the Arctic, and around the globe. Summer sea ice reflects sunlight out to space, cooling the planet’s surface and warming the atmosphere. As the ice cover shrinks, less sunlight will be reflected, allowing the sun to warm more of the ocean.

NASA has also found more recent data that shows that this year’s perennial ice cover is the least extensive ever observed in the Arctic during the era of satellite observation.

The NASA study was published in the late October issue of the Journal Geophysical Research Letters. It was funded by NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program and the NASA Earth Science Enterprise/Earth Observing System Project.

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