Last updated on October 28, 2020
If we lose the Arctic, we lose the whole world. President Niinistö of Finland
There is a record open ocean in the Arctic as a delayed freeze in sea ice formation due to record-shattering heat in the Laptev Sea. Siberia has been freakishly hot recently, resulting in the loss of bone-chilling winds from the Siberian landmass that would be freezing the sea at this point. Additionally, warm Atlantic waters have infiltrated into the Arctic, undermining the pack ice even further.
The heat is a direct result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, there will be consequences of Arctic amplification resulting in continuous feedbacks that melt the ice caps and Arctic permafrost.
Zack Labbe of Colorado State University describes the lack of “lack of freeze-up so far this fall is unprecedented in the Siberian Arctic region.” Labbe notes the changes in the Arctic are inline with a warming climate.
All of us need to be concerned about the Laptev Sea as it is a sea ice factory that forms a significant part of the sea ice pack in the Arctic Ocean. A lack of sea ice allows the sun to heat the water, further undermining sea ice cover.
The trapped heat takes a long time to dissipate into the atmosphere, even at this time of the year when the sun creeps above the horizon for little more than an hour or two each day.
Graphs of sea-ice extent in the Laptev Sea, which usually show a healthy seasonal pulse, appear to have flat-lined. As a result, there is a record amount of open sea in the Arctic.
“This continues a streak of very low extents. The last 14 years, 2007 to 2020, are the lowest 14 years in the satellite record starting in 1979,” said Walt Meier, senior research scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. He said much of the old ice in the Arctic is now disappearing, leaving thinner seasonal ice. Overall the average thickness is half what it was in the 1980s.
The downward trend is likely to continue until the Arctic has its first ice-free summer, said Meier. The data and models suggest this will occur between 2030 and 2050. “It’s a matter of when, not if,” he added.
The Laptev Sea is known as the birthplace of ice, which forms along the coast there in early winter, then drifts westward carrying nutrients across the Arctic, before breaking up in the spring in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. If ice forms late in the Laptev, it will be thinner and thus more likely to melt before it reaches the Fram Strait. This could mean fewer nutrients for Arctic plankton, which will then have a reduced capacity to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
More open sea also means more turbulence in the upper layer of the Arctic ocean, which draws up more warm water from the depths.
Dr Stefan Hendricks, a sea ice physics specialist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, said the sea ice trends are grim but not surprising. “It is more frustrating than shocking. This has been forecast for a long time, but there has been little substantial response by decision-makers.”
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