Nature Reports: Climate Change
The rapid decline of sea ice could accelerate inland warming over the Arctic region, radically transforming the landscape.
One of the Northern Hemisphere’s natural cycles is the expansion and contraction of the floating Arctic ice cap. Typically, sea ice decreases during the Arctic summer, reaching a low in September, before recovering as temperatures drop in winter. From as far back as satellite measurements began in 1978 until 2000, the average sea-ice extent, or the area of ocean covered by at least 15 per cent ice, has routinely hovered around 7 million square kilometres during the summer minimum.
But in 2002, scientists noticed a sharp drop in the region’s minimum ice coverage. By September 2007, the area covered by ice had been whittled down to a startling 4.3 million square kilometres — 40 per cent smaller than in the 1980s. Scientists say the retreat witnessed last year was drastic, unexpected and more than 20 per cent below the previous record minimum.
Not only will the loss affect the marine ecosystem and its dependents, from indigenous communities to marine mammals that rely on the ice for hunting and travel; it stands to alter the Arctic landscape much further afield. According to a new study in the 13 June issue of Geophysical Research Letters, the rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice could accelerate warming 1,500 kilometres inland in northern Alaska, Canada and Russia. During rapid ice retreat, the rate of inland warming could be more than three times that previously predicted from global climate models.
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