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Ice-free summer Arctic closer than we thought: Study


Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, October 25, 2017, 5:24 PM - As the world continues to warm, an ice-free Arctic summer appears inevitable, with some estimates placing that new reality in the 2040s or 2050s. But new research released this week suggests it will be upon us sooner than expected.

That's due to a miscalculation of sea ice thickness by satellites monitoring the region, says a study from the University of Calgary's Cryosphere Climate Research Group. 

The researchers looked at the thickness of seasonal sea ice, up to a year old, and measured it against estimates from the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite. Their findings, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found the satellite overestimated ice thickness by as much as 25 per cent.

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Lead researcher Vishnu Nandan says the key reason is that the ice is covered in snow, and the snow nearest the ice surface has a higher salt content.

"The problem is, microwave measurements from satellites don’t penetrate the salty snow very well, so the satellite is not measuring the proper sea ice freeboard and the satellite readings overestimate the thickness of the ice," Nandan said in a release from the university.

The researchers say they've devised a method to compensate for the discrepancy, based in part on 10 years of Canadian Arctic ice data.

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Though in economic terms, the decline of Arctic sea ice could open up the seaway to global shipping, the effect of ice-free summers is likely to badly affect both the climate and environment, both locally and globally.

“Such a transition would radically affect global weather patterns and dramatically increase the magnitude and frequency of storm events,” co-author and University of Calgary Prof. John Yackel says. “It would also dramatically alter the Arctic marine ecosystem, with the added sunlight affecting the Arctic Ocean food web and melting the very ice bed on which animals like polar bears hunt.”

SOURCES: University of CalgaryGeophysical Research Letters

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