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US Navy predicts summer ice free Arctic by 2016

Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise

Greenpeace icebreaking ship, Arctic Sunrise, among broken floes of Arctic sea ice, photographed from the air. This image was taken in the Fram Strait, in the month that the sea ice coverage receded to the second lowest extent since records began. Photograph: Nick Cobbing


Powered by article titled “US Navy predicts summer ice free Arctic by 2016” was written by Nafeez Ahmed, for on Monday 9th December 2013 13.39 UTC

An ongoing US Department of Energy-backed research project led by a US Navy scientist predicts that the Arctic could lose its summer sea ice cover as early as 2016 – 84 years ahead of conventional model projections.

The project, based out of the US Naval Postgraduate School‘s Department of Oceanography, uses complex modelling techniques that make its projections more accurate than others.

A paper by principal investigator Professor Wieslaw Maslowski in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences sets out some of the findings so far of the research project:

“Given the estimated trend and the volume estimate for October–November of 2007 at less than 9,000 km3, one can project that at this rate it would take only 9 more years or until 2016 ± 3 years to reach a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer. Regardless of high uncertainty associated with such an estimate, it does provide a lower bound of the time range for projections of seasonal sea ice cover.”

The paper is highly critical of global climate models (GCM) and even the majority of regional models, noting that “many Arctic climatic processes that are omitted from, or poorly represented in, most current-generation GCMs” which “do not account for important feedbacks among various system components.”

There is therefore “a great need for improved understanding and model representation of physical processes and interactions specific to polar regions that currently might not be fully accounted for or are missing in GCMs.”

According to the US Department of Energy describing the project’s development of the Regional Arctic System Model (RASM):

“Given that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the globe, understanding the processes and feedbacks of this polar amplification is a top priority. In addition, Arctic glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet are expected to change significantly and contribute to sea level rise in the coming decades.”

Such Arctic changes “could have significant ramifications for global sea level, the ocean thermohaline circulation and heat budget, ecosystems, native communities, natural resource exploration, and commercial transportation.”

The regional focus of RASM permits “significantly higher spatial resolution” to represent and evaluate the interaction of “important fine-scale Arctic processes and feedbacks”, such as:

“… sea ice deformation, ocean eddies, and associated ice-ocean boundary layer mixing, multiphase clouds as well as land-atmosphere-ice-ocean interactions.”

The role of the Department of Energy in backing the research is not surprising considering that President Obama’s national Arctic strategy launched in May is focused on protecting commercial and corporate opportunities related to control of the region’s vast untapped oil, gas and mineral resources.

The model coheres with the predictions of several other Arctic specialists – namely Prof Peter Wadhams, head of polar ocean physics at Cambridge University and Prof Carlos Duarte, director of the Ocean Institute at the University of Western Australia – who see the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice in the summer of 2015 as likely.

Prof Wadhams is co-author of the controversial Nature paper which calculated the potential economic costs of climate change based on a scenario of 50 Gigatonnes (Gt) of methane being released this century from melting permafrost at the East Siberia Arctic Shelf (ESAS), a vast region of shallow-water covered continental crust.

The scenario was first postulated by Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.


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