21 research institution around the world were involved in a recent study that predicted the fate of sea ice in the Arctic region. The results predict that sea ice in the Arctic region will disappear in the summers by the year 2050.

For millions of years in geologic history, the Arctic has observed an equilibrium of ice freezing in winters and thawing in summer. However from the past decades sea ice in the Arctic region has faced a decline in its volume, expanding less and retreating as years pass, substantially affecting Arctic ecosystem and climate. The effectiveness of measures related to climate protection and environmental management will determine the rate of change in Arctic sea ice.

The Arctic region is expected to be completely free of ice in summer before 2050, at least temporally.
These are the results of a new research study (published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters), involving 21 research institutes from around the world, coordinated by Dirk Notz from the University of Hamburg, Germany. The results of the study has predicted that the staggering change will happen before the year 2050, and the forecast may not alter even if the world decreases present carbon dioxide emissions.

Using CMIP6 project to forecast Arctic sea ice

Climate modeling was carried out by using the World Climate Research Program’s Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6). Scientists looked at 40 different climate models that mimic how Arctic sea ice patterns will evolve in the coming decades. The researchers studied the climate models using mocked-up scenarios, including some where global emissions continued as they are (little to no protection to the climate) and some where the global emissions were sharply reduced.

The research team has analyzed recent results from 40 different climate models. Using these models, the researchers considered the future evolution of Arctic sea-ice cover in a scenario with high future CO2 emissions and little climate protection. As expected, Arctic sea ice disappeared quickly in summer in these simulations. However, the new study finds that Arctic summer sea ice also disappears occasionally if CO2 emissions are rapidly reduced.

Majority of the simulations showed that Arctic ocean loses practically all of its summer ice by 2050 regardless of the environmental protection measured taken. According to the authors of the study: “The CMIP6 models shows that Arctic sea-ice area is predicted to drop below 1 million square kilometres, as Arctic Ocean becomes practically sea-ice free in September before the middle of this century.”

Arctic sea ice 1979
Arctic summer sea ice in September 1979
Image Credit: Dirk Notz
Arctic sea ice 2019
Arctic summer sea ice in September 2019
Image Credit: Dirk Notz

According to Dr. Dirk Notz: “If we rapidly decrease global emissions, while keeping the global warming below 2 °C relative to pre-industrial levels, Arctic sea ice will nevertheless likely disappear occasionally in summer even before 2050. This really surprised us.”

How often the Arctic will lose its sea-ice cover in the future critically depends on emissions. The good news is that we may still be able to influence arctic sea ice, by managing global emissions. Climate modeling and simulations can predict many things, but the only trajectory that really matters is the path we collectively decide to take.


North pole soon to be ice free in summer
Stephanie Janssen | April 20, 2020 | University of Hamburg, Germany


Arctic Sea Ice in CMIP6
Geophysical Research Letters

CITE THIS ARTICLE: "New study predicts Arctic “sea ice” will disappear by 2050," in Geoscience Daily, May 21, 2020, https://geosciencedaily.com/environment/arctic-sea-ice-will-disappear-2050/.