“As scientists, we’ve been warning about the loss of Arctic summer sea ice for decades,” said one researcher.
Scientists on Tuesday warned that the planet is rapidly headed toward the consequences of the climate crisis that they have been warning about for decades as researchers published a new study showing that a complete loss of Arctic sea ice in the summer months is now unavoidable.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in 2021 alarmed many with its warnings that if high or even intermediate planet-heating fossil fuel emissions continued, the Arctic would be ice-free by the 2040s—but its authors implored policymakers to focus on their finding that the region would retain its summer ice if decisive action was taken to limit an increase in global temperature rises to 2°C or less.
The new study published by researchers in South Korea, Germany, and Canada in Nature Communications found that even far-reaching action will no longer save the sea ice.
The scientists found that even in a low-emissions scenario, summer ice in the Arctic will be gone by the 2050s.
In an intermediate- or high-emissions scenario—which is far more likely, considering the United States, the largest historic source of fossil fuel emissions, has recently moved to approve massive projects such as the Willow oil drilling project and the Mountain Valley Pipeline—the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer months starting in the 2030s.
When I started reporting on climate change, the prediction was the Arctic could be sea-ice-free in summer by the 2070s. Now? By the 2030s. https://t.co/iSA52WS4YD— Elizabeth Kolbert (@ElizKolbert) June 6, 2023
“Unfortunately it has become too late to save Arctic summer sea ice,” Dirk Notz, a climatologist at the University of Hamburg and co-author of the study, told The Guardian. “As scientists, we’ve been warning about the loss of Arctic summer sea ice for decades. This is now the first major component of the Earth system that we are going to lose because of global warming. People didn’t listen to our warnings.”
The researchers examined satellite data and climate models to analyze changes in the Arctic sea ice between 1979 and 2019 and found that previous models underestimated ice melting trends and that 90% of the loss of sea ice was the result of human-caused planetary heating.
Summer ice in the Arctic has receded by 13% each decade since 1979, they found.
The planet is already experiencing the effects of increased open water in the Arctic during the summer months, lead author Seung-Ki Min of Pohang University in South Korea noted, and policymakers must now prepare communities to adapt to those impacts, including extreme weather events.
“The most important impact for human society will be the increase in weather extremes that we are experiencing now, such as heatwaves, wildfires, and floods,” Min told The Guardian. “We need to reduce CO2 emissions more ambitiously and also prepare to adapt to this faster Arctic warming and its impacts on human society and ecosystems.”
The loss of summer sea ice would trigger a feedback loop known as “Arctic amplification,” with the dark ocean absorbing more solar heat and causing additional planetary warming,
Arctic warming has also changed weather patterns in the northern hemisphere, such as storm formation and wind speeds—leading to extreme heat and rainfall.
“We need to prepare ourselves for a world with warmer Arctic very soon,” Min told CNN. “The earlier onset of an ice-free Arctic also implies that we will be experiencing extreme events faster than predicted.”
Scientists last year said the extreme heat wave that struck Pakistan and India was made 30 times more likely due to planetary heating, and officials called the flooding that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands in Pakistan “climate dystopia at our doorstep.”
Min said the impending loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic is a “tipping point” and a sign that the region is “seriously ill.”
“We can regard the Arctic sea ice as the immune system of our body which protects our body from harmful things,” Min told CNN. “Without the protector, the Arctic’s condition will go from bad to worse quickly.”
This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).