What Will Ice-Free Arctic Summers Bring?
On Sunday, September 16, the sun did not rise above the horizon in the Arctic. Nevertheless enough of the sun’s heat had poured over the North Pole during the summer months to cause the largest loss of Arctic sea ice cover since satellite records began in the 1970s. The record low 3.41 million square kilometers of ice shattered the previous low set in 2007. All told, since 1979, the Arctic sea ice minimum extent has shrunk by more than 50%—and even greater amounts of ice have been lost in the corresponding thinning of the ice, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Some ice scientists have begun to think that the Arctic might be ice-free in summer as soon as the end of this decade—leaving darker, heat-absorbing ocean waters to replace the bright white heat-reflecting sea ice. The question is: Then what happens? Although the nature and extent of these rapid changes are not yet fully understood by researchers, the impacts could range from regional weather-pattern changes to global climate feedbacks that exacerbate overall warming.