Azara Blog: Arctic ice might disappear in the summers by 2013

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Date published: 2007/12/12

The BBC says:

Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice.

Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years.

Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss.

Summer melting this year reduced the ice cover to 4.13 million sq km, the smallest ever extent in modern times.

Remarkably, this stunning low point was not even incorporated into the model runs of Professor Maslowski and his team, which used data sets from 1979 to 2004 to constrain their future projections.

"Our projection of 2013 for the removal of ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007," the researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, explained to the BBC.

"So given that fact, you can argue that may be our projection of 2013 is already too conservative."

Using supercomputers to crunch through possible future outcomes has become a standard part of climate science in recent years.

Professor Maslowski's group, which includes co-workers at Nasa and the Institute of Oceanology, Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS), is well known for producing modelled dates that are in advance of other teams.

These other teams have variously produced dates for an open summer ocean that, broadly speaking, go out from about 2040 to 2100.

But the Monterey researcher believes these models have seriously underestimated some key melting processes. In particular, Professor Maslowski is adamant that models need to incorporate more realistic representations of the way warm water is moving into the Arctic basin from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Well, all the models are just models, and nonlinear dynamics is tricky to get right, but it certainly seems plausible that the ice will disappear in the summer sooner rather than later. And the cruise ships are no doubt already lining up to bring tourists to the North Pole, not to mention all the trade ships that will take the Arctic as a shortcut.

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