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Ice-free summer Arctic may be closer

May 3, 2007
 
 
According to a press release from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) arctic sea ice is going away even more quickly than studies originally projected.

From the press release: Arctic sea ice is melting at a significantly faster rate than projected by even the most advanced computer models, a new study concludes. The research, by scientists at NCAR and the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), shows that the Arctic's ice cover is retreating more rapidly than estimated by any of the 18 computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in preparing its 2007 assessments.

"While the ice is disappearing faster than the computer models indicate, both observations and the models point in the same direction: the Arctic is losing ice at an increasingly rapid pace and the impact of greenhouse gases is growing," says NCAR scientist Marika Holland, one of the study's co-authors.

The authors compared model simulations of past climate with observations by satellites and other instruments. They found that, on average, the models simulated a loss in September ice cover of 2.5 percent per decade from 1953 to 2006. The fastest rate of September retreat in any individual model was 5.4 percent per decade. (September marks the yearly minimum of sea ice in the Arctic.) But newly available data sets, blending early aircraft and ship reports with more recent satellite measurements that are considered more reliable than the earlier records, show that the September ice actually declined at a rate of about 7.8 percent per decade during the 1953-2006 period.

The study indicates that, because of the disparity between the computer models and actual observations, the shrinking of summertime ice is about 30 years ahead of the climate model projections. As a result, the Arctic could be seasonally free of sea ice earlier than the IPCC- projected timeframe of any time from 2050 to well beyond 2100.