There will be considerable ice to water conversion in the Arctic region by the mid-century mark.
By the year 2050, much of the Arctic region will have less sea ice and more free-flowing water in it. This condition will be extant during 60 days from the 365 days per year period.
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"We hear all the time about how sea ice extent in the Arctic is going down," says Katy Barnhart, who led the study while at CU-Boulder's Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).
"That's an important measurement if you are trying to understand broad impacts of climate change in the Arctic, but it doesn't tell us about how the changes in the sea ice in the Arctic are going to affect specific places."
So Barnhart and her colleagues, including CIRES Fellow Jennifer Kay and INSTAAR Fellow Irina Overeem, investigate the very local impacts of open water expansion patterns in the Arctic.
Researchers have shown how sea ice in the North Pole is undergoing reversals in its state. While we know that the change is happening, what we don’t know is where the change is leading us towards.
Especially, specific regions of the world will feel the full brunt of these changes in sea ice. Some of the local effects are being tracked with great avidity by experts too. The results of these peregrinations have been published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"We wanted to highlight places that had interesting or different stories with respect to the patterns of Arctic Ocean, atmosphere, and sea ice motion--things like coastal erosion or connections to potential sea routes," said Barnhart, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
"Since we don't expect the impacts of Arctic sea ice loss to be exactly the same in Alaska as in Greenland, we looked at open water days to provide a more nuanced picture of sea ice change at specific locations."
Computer models have helped mankind discover how sea ice levels changed from the year 1850 to the present. The trends from today all the way till the end of this century are noteworthy too.
What went on in preindustrial times was very different from what will occur in postindustrial times. It is quite a contrast and the worldview is entirely foreign to the past model.
Four coastal regions of the Arctic were studied in depth. They were: Alaska, Siberia, Canada and Norway. In Alaska alone, the waters are shifting. A wearing away of the coastal sea ice is something which is very noticeable and the rate has varied over the past hundred years.
Other places which were in a different state got studied too. Indeed, each place had its own peculiarities with respect to temperature and conditions. Whereas the South Pole shows extremes of cold, the North Pole does not possess as solid a land mass of ice.
The addition of 60 extra days of water flowing in place of ice is something of considerable importance. It will radically and irreversibly change the situation around the region for better or for worse.
"The Arctic is warming and the sea ice is melting, with impacts on Arctic people and ecosystems," Kay said. "By the end of this century, assuming a scenario of continued business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, the Arctic will be in a new regime with respect to open water, fully outside the realm of what we've seen in the past."
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As global warming gets into full-on mode, the consequences will have to be either cured or endured. And we are in it as a species for the long haul. The big changes that we will have to make if we are to survive this crisis will not take a matter of days to implement. They will require years and centuries to institute and by then a lot will have altered by itself.