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Arctic Ocean may see ice-free summers by 2050


NOAA scientists explore the arctic on a 2005 mission. Photo: NOAA.
NOAA scientists explore the arctic on a 2005 mission. Photo: NOAA.

Daniel Martins, staff writer

April 14, 2013 — You may have to revise your mental image of the Arctic Ocean as a year-round expanse of endless ice.

2012's summer Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record. Photo: NOAA
2012's summer Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record. Photo: NOAA

A new study from the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says the Arctic Ocean will see nearly ice-free summers by 2050 -- perhaps sooner.

The report's authors says the trend will have a wide-reaching impact.

"Rapid Arctic sea ice loss is probably the most visible indicator of global climate change," says James Overland of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. "It leads to shifts in ecosystems and economic access, and potentially impacts weather throughout the northern hemisphere."

Some summer sea ice is likely to survive north of Greenland and Canada's Arctic archipelago, the authors say.

Arctic sea ice has been on the wane for much of the past decade. 

Last summer was the lowest recorded extent of sea ice. In March, the winter ice pack reached its fifth-lowest extent on record. Nine of the 10 lowest winter ice pack extents have been in the last decade.

The study is based on three separate methods of prediction, and their estimations of an ice-free summer Arctic ocean ranged from 2020 or earlier, to 2040 or later.

Even the later estimate is way earlier than the 2070s time frame predicted by climate models several years ago.

Overland says new and better models will be needed as the Arctic region grows in importance.

The study was published online and in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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