Ice-free Arctic by the year 2030

ResearchBlogging.orgSpring is in the air. Spring Break is upon us, and the mind begins to wander... to the poles? Well, yes, because the Antarctic is calving enormous glaciers and researchers are predicting a seasonally ice-free Arctic by the year 2030. Break out the kayaks and suncreen. It's "Wild on, Nuuk."

The news wire is full of stories about the rapid melting of the Wilkins Ice Shelf 1000 miles south of South America. If the warming trend continues, the folks on the Patagonian coast of Argentina will be watching icebergs float off their coast just like the Kiwis in the video below. Check it out. Can Argentina "tango on the ice floe" like New Zealand does? I dunno. We'll see...

J. Stroeve and colleagues at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at University of Colorado, Boulder report that the Arctic lost ice cover roughly equivalent to an area the size of Texas and California combined in 2007. Only half the ice cover remains from the glory days in the 1950's and 1970's.

Ice nearly 9 years old essentially disappeared last year. The loss is attributed to anomolous wind patterns over the Arctic Ocean and increasing sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Chukchi and East Siberian Seas. The authors called the long-term outlook for Arctic ice cover "disturbing".

Their climate model is based on conservative estimates of climate change but the model results still indicate that 1) thin ice is more responsive to greenhouse gas than thick ice, and 2) rapid summer decay can result from albedo feedback mechanisms. That is, more heat is absorbed in the ocean, and less is reflected, once the ice cap is melted. Considering recent results, the view of the authors is "a seasonally ice free Arctic Ocean might be realized as early as 2030."

Wow, that's probably within my lifetime. Now I'm getting worried.


Stroeve, J., M.Serreze, S. Drobot, S. Gearheard, M. Holland, J. Maslanik, W. Meier, and T. Scambos. 2008. Arctic Sea Ice Plummets in 2007. EOS Transactions. Vol 89, No. 2, pp 1-2. January 8, 2008.

Stroeve, J., Holland, M.M., Meier, W., Scambos, T., Serreze, M. (2007). Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast. Geophysical Research Letters, 34(9) DOI: 10.1029/2007GL029703

Note the citation at uses the doi of second reference. NA for the first.

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When I was a teenager in Alaska, ice on the neighboring body of sea was not news worthy enough for the local stations to comment on it, but they did once send out the copters to cover the rescue of two of my friends who were busy drifting out to sea on an ice floe.

First it was 2050, then 2030, given the speed at which change is progressing I wouldn't be surprised to see that cut down to 2020 very soon and possibly lower.

I know that non-native species rarely work the way the think they would... but Has anybody thought seriously about relocating a population of polar bears to Antarctica. Else, the remaining living ones will be limited to zoos.

Intersting perspective, Earthceutical. I can see the headlines now.

"Top Predator Cage Match: Crabeater seal vs Polar bear. Who takes Antarctica?"

I know that having two top tier predators would be one of the concerns, and that the polar bears would eat some penguins. Also, rational people would debate the merits of relocating enough of them to conserve the polar bear gene pool against the calculated impact of doing so to a totally separate ecosystem. Having said that, what would be the upside and downside of this? How many polar bears would it take to conserve the genetic pool for sustainability? Besides impact on the native species, there are other considerations... for example, it is colder in the Antarctic than the arctic.

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