In the last few decades, the thick arctic sea ice, known as the “Last Ice Area” has been melting fast. The loss of ice during the summer every year has been such that the area now only spans half as much as it did back in the early 1980s.
The main culprit of this loss has been global temperature increase, and at its current rate, there might not be any ice left in the arctic ocean by the end of this century.
In a new paper published in the journal Earth’s Future, researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and McGill University have analysed how long the thick arctic sea can last with the current rate loss and the impact of its loss on creatures that depend on the ice for survival.
The “Last Ice Area” spans around one-million-square kilometers, stretching from the coasts of the Canadian Archipelago, all way to Greenland’s northern region. The ice has usually been thickest by summer – as fresh snow and ice accumulates each year over the winter – and hence is usually more resilient to increased temperatures.
The researchers found that under both pessimistic and optimistic scenarios, the summer ice in the region will be dramatically thin by the year 2050.
If the world were to take drastic actions, bringing down carbon emissions and thereby limiting global temperature increase, a portion of the existing summer ice could persist in the region indefinitely.
On the other hand, if the carbon emissions either continue at the current rate of increase, then the summer ice is likely to disappear entirely by the year 2100.
The loss of sea ice will have a drastic impact on creatures that rely on it for survival, including seals and polar bears. The researchers expect such animals will also likely go extinct due soon after the ice disappears.
“Unfortunately, this is a massive experiment we’re doing,” said Robert Newton, co-author of the study and a senior research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Columbia University. “If the year-round ice goes away, entire ice-dependent ecosystems will collapse, and something new will begin.”
The loss of such massive amounts of ice will also have massive ramifications on the rest of the world. Sea levels will likely increase by several millimeters wreaking havoc on coastal areas and submerging fragile ecosystems. This could further lead to humanitarian crises as well as the loss of vital ecosystems.
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