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Study: Arctic ice could be gone by 2020

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Researchers belonging to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) say that the Arctic ice caps are melting at a rate much faster than that predicted by computer models previously reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and that the ice could be gone sometime near year 2020.

This figure illustrates the extent to which Arctic sea ice is melting faster than projected by computer models.
Image: Steve Deyo, ©UCAR, based on research by NSIDC and NCAR.

"This suggests that current model projections may in fact provide a conservative estimate of future Arctic change, and that the summer Arctic sea ice may disappear considerably earlier than IPCC projections," said head researcher of the study group at the United States-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado's NSIDC, Julienne Stroeve.

Stroeve says that the IPCC's 18 computer models used in the study were out of date and that the melting of the ice has actually progressed 30 years quicker than the computers predicted. The researchers also say that the computers did not take into account the increased threat of global warming. The IPCC ultimately predicted that the ice would be gone by 2050.

Despite the predictions, since 1979, the ice has actually melted at a rate of 9% per decade.

The prediction by the IPCC was done in the Arctic Sea during September and predicted that between 1953 and 2003, the ice would have melted 2.5% per decade, but it actually melted at a rate of 7.8% per decade. Their worst case scenario between those years, which was predicted using only one computer, had shown that the ice was going to melt at a rate of 5.4% per decade.

"Right now - the Arctic helps keep the Earth cool. Without that Arctic ice, or with much less of it, the Earth will warm much faster. The IPCC report was very careful, very thorough and cautious, so they erred on the side of what would certainly occur as opposed to what might occur," said Ted Scambos, an expert on Arctic ice in the U.S.

"Long-term and for the next 50 years, I think even the new report will agree that we're in for quite a bit of warming," added Scambos.