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Ice-free summers in the Arctic: the urgency of protecting one of the most vulnerable ecosystem

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

The most feared forecast is brought forward to 2030, urging immediate action on climate change. In less than a decade, the Arctic could face its first ice-free summers.

Majestuosa Lengua Glaciar Que Llega A La Orilla Del Mar Bajo El Sombrío Cielo Brumoso

The alarming ice-free prediction, which had previously been raised for the coming decades, has been brought forward due to the accelerated progress of the climate crisis, according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications. If it stays that way, the Arctic could experience its first sea-ice-free summer as early as the 2030s, twenty years before the bleakest forecasts yet.

The scientific community has been warning about the risks facing one of the most important frozen ecosystems on the planet for some time. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), considered the most comprehensive study to date on the impact of this crisis, warned that the Arctic is suffering damage to an unprecedented magnitude. In fact, in the last decade, annual Arctic ice extent has reached record lows, even below any other record in the last thousand years.

Initially, forecasts suggested that the Arctic would face ice-free months from 2050, but only under extreme climate crisis scenarios. However, a team of researchers from the University of Pohang in South Korea warns that this prediction has worsened considerably. "Even in low-emissions scenarios, models indicate a drastic decline in Arctic sea ice. We estimate that ice-free summers could begin in the Arctic from 2030," the experts warn.

The analysis indicates that the decrease in sea ice is due to the human factor and the increase in emissions Ofcom. The factors, such as solar radiation and volcanic activity, seem to have a minimal effect on this phenomenon. This was concluded by the most comprehensive report published to date on the climate crisis, which stated unequivocally that "human activity has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface".

Studies indicate that the Arctic region is warming almost four times faster than the rest of the world. Historical records reveal that between 1979 and 2021, the Arctic Ocean warmed at a rate of 0.75 °C per decade. In the Eurasian region, near the Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya archipelagos, temperatures have risen by up to 1.25 °C per decade over the past 40 years, seven times more than the global average.

But what would happen if the Arctic ran out of ice? According to the authors of this latest analysis, the melting of the North Pole "would affect human societies and natural ecosystems, changing marine activity, accelerating the warming of the North Pole and further altering the carbon cycle”.

The melting of the Arctic has various consequences that affect both regionally and globally. This phenomenon could lead to the loss of critical habitats for numerous plant and animal species, including polar bears, seals, walruses, and migratory birds. The reduction in sea ice also affects the biological productivity of the region, which can have a negative impact on food chains and biodiversity in general. In addition, the Arctic also plays an important role in regulating the global climate. Melting ice affects atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns, which can alter climate systems regionally and globally. These changes can lead to extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and more intense storms in different parts of the world.

On the other hand, we must also take into account that the Arctic sea ice acts as a barrier that prevents ocean water from spilling onto the continents. With its melting, there is a rise in sea level globally. This can have serious consequences for coastal communities, increasing the risk of flooding and eroding coastlines. In fact, permafrost - the permanently frozen soil in the Arctic - contains large amounts of frozen organic matter. As the ice melts, this organic matter decomposes and releases carbon dioxide and methane, greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. This positive feedback may further accelerate climate change. To this, we must add the impact that the thaw has on the indigenous communities that depend on the Arctic for their livelihood and their culture are directly affected by the thaw. Declining sea ice makes traditional hunting, fishing and transportation difficult, putting their food security and ancestral way of life at risk.

The situation demands immediate actions to stop climate change and protect this fragile ecosystem. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the transition to renewable energy and the adoption of more ambitious environmental policies are crucial.

The preservation of the Arctic is not only vital for wildlife and local ecosystems, but also has global implications for the climate and the sustainability of our planet. Time is short, and it is everyone's responsibility to take action to protect the Arctic and mitigate climate change.

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