Arctic sea ice to melt even faster than scientists thought, study shows

Written by By Jake Gosling, CNN Written by Meaghan Murphy, CNN

The Arctic Ocean warmed dramatically sooner than previously thought, according to new research, and could do even more harm than scientists previously believed to the health of the world’s oceans.

“This is a wake-up call … we need to be moving on mitigation rather than adaptation,” said Sir David King, a Royal Society Royal Society Fellow, and professor of climate change impacts and natural hazards at the University of Oxford, speaking alongside fellow researcher Julian Leonard, director of the Earth System Research Laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Their report says the Arctic Ocean could warm as much as 4.3 degrees Celsius (8.8 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared to what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had forecast in 2007.

“That will have profound effects on the ecosystems and we are only looking at damage that can happen due to the Arctic warming as a result of warming as opposed to the ice-free Arctic already,” said Professor Guy Thomas of Imperial College London, a working group chair on climate change impacts, and lead author of the report.

Most alarmingly of all, the study found that the Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth as a result of an abnormally warm Arctic Ocean ocean waters.

(It’s only slightly cooler in the ocean in April in northern Canada.)

Because the ocean’s temperature rises so much quicker, the researchers say that its impact on the ocean’s chemistry and chemicals can become increasingly potent.

Read the full report here

“That will affect every organism in the ocean, which I think is really important to take seriously,” Thomas said.

Loss of polar ecosystem

This growth in warming temperatures could increase the severity of disturbances to the landscape that have already occurred such as mass loss of polar sea ice.

“We know that the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is quite isolated at the moment, can experience great disruption because a significant amount of its mass is not in the ice anymore but is in the ocean,” Leonard said.

These changes in the Arctic Ocean are also pushing up sea levels, causing the ocean to rise at a rate that has been underestimated, the authors of the report said.

“(The overall average sea level rise) was actually overestimated by more than one meter (3.3 feet) because of the fact that the oceans are warming faster,” said Professor Brad Humphreys, co-author of the report.

Sea levels could rise by as much as 0.28 meters (82 inches) by 2100, according to the United Nations Environmental Program’s (UNEP) 2011 global climate report. By the end of the 21st century, the study authors believe that sea levels could rise by up to 2.2 meters (7.3 feet).

“These models from a climate model that wasn’t calibrated up properly which is really what these models that are causing these changes in the Arctic … have to be,” said Thomas.

For the past decade the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has regularly updated its database on changes in the Arctic. These changes have become increasingly apparent and correlated with those taken from satellite imagery. The teams in the global warming impacts working group used NOAA’s regular updating and updated images of the Arctic ocean.

“It’s been adjusted upwards, up, up, up and that gives you a better sense of what is happening in the Arctic,” said Humphreys.

The increasing rate of warming caused by a tiny planet-warming molecule

Read the full report here

The most pressing risk of the melting ice is how it is affecting the soil which has been seen to rapidly shift its composition. This in turn could have even more far-reaching effects on the geological makeup of the region.

“That’s very interesting and it’s interesting that the melting of the ice has caused a lot of organisms in the soil to migrate,” said Thomas.

“We are very concerned about the Greenland ice sheet and its many moving parts, but we also need to be worried about what is happening in the Arctic in a broader sense,” added Humphreys.

“The scientists have warned about this [climate change and damage to the Arctic Ocean], but our study is the first really systematic study to show the change we’ve seen.”

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