In October, ice usually begins forming across the Arctic Ocean. This year, amid the climate crisis, it’s not freezing.
Global warming’s grip is most evident on Earth’s coldest spots. For example, a recent National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) study revealed Arctic sea ice to be at its lowest level since 2012.
Honing in specifically on the Laptev Sea, located off the coast of Siberia and dubbed ‘the birthplace of ice’, vast amounts of ice usually form by this stage in the year – however, experts are concerned as it’s yet to start freezing.
As reported by The Guardian, the delayed annual freeze has been attributed to the Atlantic Ocean’s growing temperatures – recently recorded at its warmest in nearly 3,000 years – and further heat in northern Russia.
With more than a five-degree rise in surrounding waters, trapped heat and sea-ice graphs ‘flat-lining’, the Arctic’s open sea is on a record scale.
Zachary Labe, a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University, warned the publication, ‘The lack of freeze-up so far this fall is unprecedented in the Siberian Arctic region.’
He explained, ‘2020 is another year that is consistent with a rapidly changing Arctic. Without a systematic reduction in greenhouse gases, the likelihood of our first ice-free summer will continue to increase by the mid-21st century.’
Greenhouse gases play a major role in the degradation of the Arctic. An earlier World Weather Attribution study estimated Siberia’s heatwave to made ‘600 times more likely as a result of human-induced climate change’. It’s also why Antarctica’s ozone hole, widening on an annual basis, is the largest and deepest it’s been in years.
Walt Meier, senior research scientist at the NSIDC, said the Laptev Sea’s lack of ice ‘continues a streak of very low extents’, with the past 14 years being the ‘lowest 14 years in the satellite record starting in 1979’.
Meier echoed Labe’s concerns over an ice-free summer, estimated to take place sometime between 2030 and 2050 if statistics continue to tumble. ‘It’s a matter of when, not if,’ he said.
Thomas Krumpen, a sea ice physicist and climate scientist at Alfred Wegener Institute, told Vice, ‘The rapid retreat and low ice extent in the Laptev Sea this summer is truly exceptional and wasn’t really predicted by models. It basically tells us that the interaction between ice, ocean, and atmosphere is very complex and not fully understood.’
Following the conclusion of a year-long expedition across the icy region, the experts onboard Polarstern warned the Arctic ocean was ‘dying’ and that ‘ice is declining very fast… we need to understand the Arctic in order to understand how it is playing along with the rest of global change’.
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