Arctic ice may be melting faster than expected, study reports

A new study shows that past research may have underestimated the pace at which the arctic ice is melting.

Tobi Gerdes | Oct 31, 2019

Arctic sea ice may be thinning at a much faster rate that researchers previously believed, a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters reports.

This alarming new discovery comes from researchers at Canadian University's Cryosphere Climate Research Group who found that salty snow on the surface of ice skews the accuracy of satellite measurements. In fact, their data shows that satellite estimates for the thickness of seasonal sea ice have been overestimated by up to 25 percent.

"[T]hat ice is covered in snow and the snow is salty close to where the sea ice surface is," explained lead author Vishnu Nadnad, a researcher at the University of CALGARY, according to International Business Times. "The problem is, microwave measurements from satellites don't penetrate the salty snow very well, so the satellite is not measuring the proper sea ice freeboard and the satellite readings overestimate the thickness of the ice."

Such a discrepancy means the Arctic Ocean could be completely free of ice much sooner than estimated in past predictions. The team, based on the new data, now believes all of the sea ice will completely disappear during the summer months between 2040 and 2050.

That loss would then lead to ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean, which would affect global weather patterns. Major storms would increase, and the Arctic marine ecosystem would be changed forever. Certain species would also have difficulty adapting to the new conditions.

Many studies have speculated when summertime Arctic sea ice will begin to disappear as a result of global warming. However, this new research calls almost all of those into question.

The team hopes their data will provide a new way to look at shifts in Arctic sea ice and help researchers better prepare for future changes in global temperatures.

"Our results suggest that snow salinity should be considered in all future estimates on the Arctic seasonal ice freeboard made from satellites," said John Yackel, according to Reuters.

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