Arctic Sea ice

29th July, 2015

For many years we have been told of the impact climate change is having on our planet. A shrinking Arctic ice cap is one of the most commonly used pieces of evidence when demonstrating this. However recent analysis has shown, much to the surprise of experts, that the ice cap actually bucked the long-term trend of decline during 2013.

Since satellites began studying the region in the late 1970s, the ice covering in the Arctic has shrunk by 40%. By launching its ‘Cryosat’ satellite in 2010, the European Space Agency has been able to able to better understand the shrinking of the sea ice. Where previously scientists were only able to judge the impact of climate change by the area of ice remaining, now they also receive comprehensive data about how thick the ice is as well.

The satellite's 88 million measurements have been analysed by the Nature Geoscience journal and show that:

  • Between 2010 and 2012, the Arctic ice volume fell by 14% - in line with the warming of the climate over recent decades.
  • In 2013 the ice volume jumped up by 41%.
  • In 2014 there was still a quarter more sea ice then during the period of 2010-2012.

Having analysed temperature patterns between 2010 and 2013, researchers believe that the increase in ice was caused by retention of ice to the northwest of Greenland. Temperature records for 2013 indicate that the summer was approximately 5% cooler than the previous year, with weather conditions akin to those experienced during the 1990s also helping to boost ice retention.

What the Experts Say…

Whilst scientists have been quick to dismiss the idea of a large scale recovery of the ice cap the evidence does show that, if global warming was curbed, the Arctic could recover far more rapidly than originally believed. The authors of the report - Rachel Tilling, Andy Ridout, Andrew Shepherd and Duncan Wingham - noted that “the sharp increase in sea ice volume after just one cool summer suggests that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient that has previously been considered.”

However, Rachel Tilling went on to say:

“The long-term trend of the ice volume is downwards and the long-term trend of the temperatures in the Arctic is upwards and this finding doesn't give us any reason to disbelieve that - as far as we can tell it's just one anomalous year.”

What this research shows is that the Arctic sea ice is far more sensitive to temperature changes than previous believed. Whilst this could signal positive news during cooler conditions, it also means that the ice will be less resilient as temperatures increase.

Arctic sea ice

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