(ORDO NEWS) — The rapidly melting ice in the Arctic continues to outpace even the darkest forecasts for the future.
A new climate model, based on the last warm period in Earth’s history, shows that Arctic ice will disappear much earlier than scientists expected.
If what is happening with the Arctic now looks like the last interglacial period, it will become free of sea ice in just 15 years.
“The prospect of sea ice disappearing by 2035 should really focus our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humans can,” says Louise Syme, paleoclimatologist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
Previous forecasts by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that summer sea ice will remain in an area of over a million square kilometers until at least 2050 or even 2100, but the graph has become overly optimistic lately.
This year alone, analysis of numerous climate models has shown that even at best, the region will be virtually ice-free by mid-century.
Of course, the debate doesn’t end there; there are still so many subtle factors to consider. But Syme says we can better understand the future by looking back at Earth’s last warm period, which began roughly 130,000 years ago.
The new climate model suggests that the Arctic was most likely ice-free during the last interglacial summer, aided by the presence of thawed ponds – even more so than clouds or ocean currents, which have historically been given greater importance in the warming Arctic.
Melting ponds arise in late spring and summer in the Arctic, when rain and melting ice and snow collect in shallow puddles. Scattered bodies of water, slightly darker than the surrounding ice, reduce surface reflectivity and absorb significantly more solar heat.
Some studies have shown that melting ponds actually increase the melting of the surrounding ice and increase the potential for phytoplankton bloom in the ocean below it. It can also make sea ice unstable and cause cracks, exposing the ocean beneath and further absorbing heat.
This study, of course, is not a direct measure of today’s sea ice melt, nor does it investigate winter temperatures or seasonal changes in sea ice. This is a prediction based on what happened on the hottest days of yesteryear and what will happen in the future, using our current understanding of the atmosphere, land, ocean and ice.
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