Researchers predict that nearly ice-free summers are on the way, although it’s not yet clear when this will happen. Arctic sea-ice extent shrank to an unprecedented low this summer, part of a long-term decline in the icy white cap over the far northern ocean.
Researchers predict that nearly ice-free summers are on the way, although it’s not yet clear when this will happen. This shift has implications for climate — in particular, it is expected to aggravate global warming — and for the animals, such as polar bears and walruses, which depend on the ice for habitat.
But the loss of ice over the Arctic Ocean also opens up the possibility for increased shipping, tourism, oil and gas exploration, and fishing. But this potential development raises challenges with which nations will have to grapple, said Anne Siders, a postdoctoral researcher with the Columbia Center for Climate Change Law, to an audience at Columbia University Wednesday.
Arctic sea ice cover likely melted to its minimum extent for the year on Sept. 16, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Sea ice extent fell to 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles), now the lowest summer minimum extent in the satellite record.
“We are now in uncharted territory,” said center director Mark Serreze. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”