Home Blogs Arctic sea ice may disappear even if we meet Paris climate goals

Arctic sea ice may disappear even if we meet Paris climate goals

There is some more bad news on the Global Warming front. A new study has revealed that Arctic Sea ice may disappear even if we meet the Paris climate goals. The 194 signatories to the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on December 12, 2015, pledged to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5  degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This could be alarming coming on the back of the Trump administration appointing Scott Pruitt, a known Climate change skeptic, as the next administrator to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is part of a legal action waged by 28 states against the EPA to halt the Clean Power Plan and has cast doubt on the scientific evidence that human activity is causing Earth to warm.

READ: NOAA budget cut, NASA revamp plans jeopardize US climate research

This 23-second video from Climate Central shows old Arctic Sea ice’s demise

What the research says

James Screen and Daniel Williamson of Exeter University in Britain wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change that Arctic sea ice would melt during summertime even if the rise is limited to 2 degree Celsius. The statistical review noted that an “ice-free” Arctic would be the point at which sea-ice extent falls below 1 million sq km, in September when sea ice levels are their lowest, sometime around middle of this century.

What comes as a relief however is we do have some chance! The study says if global warming stays within the 1.5 Celsius range, there is less than a one in 100,000 (exceptionally unlikely, in IPCC parlance) chance of an ice-free Arctic, and a one in three chance (39%; or about as likely as not, in IPCC parlance) if global warming is limited to 2 degree celsius.

READ: COP21 in Paris – Geospatial community’s expectations run high

“Without efforts to slow man-made global warming, an ice-free Arctic would likely occur in summer by the middle of this century… But would limiting warming to 1.5C, or even 2C, prevent the Arctic ever going ice-free?” the opinion piece read.

The duo used data from the average amount of sea ice between 2007 and 2016 to mathematically calculate the disparities between different climate model.

In March 2017, the extent of Arctic sea ice is rivalling 2016 and 2015 as the smallest for the time of year since satellite records began in the late 1970s. The ice reaches a winter maximum in March and a summer minimum in September.

Why polar ice is important?

Last year director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) Mark Serreze said “something crazy is happening at the poles” after it was reported that the Arctic and Antarctic regions together have lost about 3.76 million sq km of sea ice as of December 4, 2016. This is more than the total area of India, or two Alaskas.

Other than keeping the ecological balance, any further melting in the Arctic also increases chances of rise in sea levels. On a global scale, the several million square kilometers of snow-white ice reflect most of the solar radiation that hits it back into space. Replace this giant mirror with the deep blue ocean, and that heat gets absorbed instead, accelerating climate change. So far, the Arctic’s surface temperature has gone up by more than 2 celsius.

Arctic sea ice may disappear
A GIF shows the iceberg separating from the glacier and then sailing off into the bay. Courtesy NASA

Meanwhile, Antarctica, which has been a darling of Climate Change deniers so far, has also started shrinking. Even as NASA said last month that a giant iceberg the size of Manhattan has broken off the Antarctic landmass, there are now fresh reports from the National Snow Ice and Data Centre (NSIDC) that there’s less sea ice in the Antarctic in March than at any point over the last 38 years. And scientists are not able to figure out exactly what is causing such a massive loss.

READ: NASA-USGS provide near-real-time view of global ice movement

The 2.118 million sq km sea ice recorded on March 1 beats the previous 1997 record of 2.29 million sq km and is the lowest since satellite records began in 1979.

Interestingly, the level of sea ice in Antarctica in 2014 was the highest since satellite records began, so there is no evidence of a long-term decline just yet.