Arctic Sea Ice Is Melting Twice as Fast Now

Cycle of rising temperatures, thinning ice worries researchers
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2021 5:20 PM CDT
Arctic Sea Ice Is Melting Twice as Fast Now
A polar bear in the Arctic, where a thick covering of sea ice is needed to keep the planet from heating up.   (Getty/avstraliavasin)

The melting ice in the Arctic is part of a worrisome climate change loop, researchers say. Global temperatures are rising, which causes more Arctic ice to melt, which exposes more dark water to the sun, which raises global temperatures. In fact, the Guardian reports, sea ice in much of the Arctic is thinning twice as fast as researchers thought. The thickness of the ice is an indicator of the Arctic's health, said Robbie Mallett of University College London, who led a new study. So the more rapid melting doesn't bode well. The Arctic already is warming up at three times the rate of the rest of the world, one professor said. Thick ice insulates the ocean water, protecting it from sunshine in the summer and from releasing heat into the atmosphere in the winter. The thinner ice is good for shipping and drilling for oil, per Scientific American, but not for ice fishing and hunting.

New computer models helped bring this finding. The amount of snow cover has been based on measurements taken by Soviet expeditions on ice floes from 1954 to 1991; it can't be determined using satellites because the depth varies too much. That information is out of date now, in light of the changes in Arctic conditions. "They sent these brave guys out and they sat on these drifting stations and floated around the Arctic, sometimes for years at a time," Mallett said, "measuring the snow depth." Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change decided more recent data was needed. The new models provided estimates of the snow cover from 2002 to 2018, leading to the new calculations on the thickness of sea ice—which is needed to keep the Earth cool, another researcher said. "We hope this work can be used to improve climate models that forecast the effects of long-term climate change in the Arctic," she said. (More Arctic sea ice stories.)

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