Are scientists conservative about sea ice?

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy encountered only small patches of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea when this photograph was taken on July 20, 2011. (Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy encountered only small patches of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea when this photograph was taken on July 20, 2011. (Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Guest post by Walt Meier, NSIDC Scientist

Arctic sea ice set a record minimum extent in September 2012, far below the previous record low in 2007. Summer extents have been far lower than average for the last decade, with several record or near-record years. Looking at the numbers, one is tempted to think that the Arctic Ocean may reach nearly sea ice-free conditions within just a few years. But most expert analyses indicate that we’re likely at least a couple decades away from seeing a blue Arctic Ocean during the summer.

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Industry and ice

As the Arctic Ocean becomes increasingly ice-free, many countries are eager to tap into previously inaccessible northern resources. Energy companies seek drilling permits for oil and natural gas, and shipping companies hope to ply newly opened sea routes. Given the unpredictable nature of Arctic sea ice, some wonder if operating in the already inhospitable north will be an economically viable effort. Others believe that even if drilling or shipping is not currently viable, the Arctic is changing fast enough that industry in the Arctic is here to stay. Continue reading

When will the Arctic lose its sea ice?

sea ice and icebergs

Scientists expect the Arctic to lose most of its summer ice cover by the end of this century, and are working to determine when this might happen. Here, open water in Fram Strait, in the Canadian Arctic, is interspersed with chunks of sea ice. Credit: Angelika Renner

If you have been following the topic of Arctic sea ice, you have probably seen a few headlines warning that the Arctic is about to lose its summer ice cover. Although scientists agree that Arctic sea ice is declining, they have published several different estimates of when the last of the sea ice will melt in summer, leaving more ocean surface open to absorb heat and add to global warming. What is behind all these different predictions? Continue reading