Arctic Summers Ice Free by 2020 (Opening of the Northwest Passage!)

Climate Scientists Vary on their Forecasts on Climate Change…Lets hope this one is wrong!

The latest information coming out of climate scientists is that, instead of the Arctic having ice free summers by the year 2070, they now think it will happen much sooner!

There will be a lot of decisions to be made

There will be a lot of decisions to be made

In a study published in the Geophysical Research Letters Vol 40, in May of 2013, titled  “When will the summer Arctic be nearly sea ice free?” by James Overland and Muyin Wang, the authors predict the potential for additional rapid sea ice melt in the Arctic.  This peer reviewed research paper and the potential ramifications of their findings should be of great interest by those concerned about our future environment.

The Abstract for this paper states;

[1] The observed rapid loss of thick multiyear sea ice over the last 7 years and the September 2012 Arctic sea ice extent reduction of 49% relative to the 1979–2000 climatology are inconsistent with projections of a nearly sea ice-free summer Arctic from model estimates of 2070 and beyond made just a few years ago. Three recent approaches to predictions in the scientific literature are as follows: (1) extrapolation of sea ice volume data, (2) assuming several more rapid loss events such as 2007 and 2012, and (3) climate model projections. Time horizons for a nearly sea ice-free summer for these three approaches are roughly 2020 or earlier, 2030 ± 10 years, and 2040 or later. Loss estimates from models are based on a subset of the most rapid ensemble members. It is not possible to clearly choose one approach over another as this depends on the relative weights given to data versus models. Observations and citations support the conclusion that most global climate model results in the CMIP5 archive are too conservative in their sea ice projections. Recent data and expert opinion should be considered in addition to model results to advance the very likely timing for future sea ice loss to the first half of the 21st century, with a possibility of major loss within a decade or two.

This is what their summary says;

“Thus, time horizons for summer sea ice loss of these three approaches turns out to be roughly 2020, 2030 and 2040 respectively for trendsetters, stochasters, and modelers. Predictions depend on the weight given to data, understanding of Arctic change processes and the use of model projections. It is reasonable to conclude that Arctic sea ice loss is very likely to occur in the first rather than the second half of the 21st century, with a possibility of loss within a decade or two.”

Go to the following link if you wish to read the full article.

What are the implications of rapid sea ice loss in the Arctic?

From a laymans perspective there would seem to be quite a few interesting possibilities.   For one,  access of a  Northwest Passage could be economically beneficial for many enterprises.  Obviously the opening up of shipping lanes and access to natural resources in the far north would also be a major result.  Large multinational oil companies will undoubtedly swarm to the northland to see what additional oil they can drill for.  Certainly shipping companies will use this route to economically transport goods around the world.  Another benefit could be Tourism,  “Come cruise to where no one has cruised before!”.

The opening of the Northwest Passage(s) will be politically controversial!

As Wiki states in the definition of Northwest Passages.  Many countries claim sovereignity.  Read it for yourself…

The Northwest Passage is a sea route through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways amidst the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.[1][2] The various islands of the archipelago are separated from one another and the Canadian mainland by a series of Arctic waterways collectively known as the Northwest Passages or Northwestern Passages.[3]

Sought by explorers for centuries as a possible trade route, it was first navigated by Roald Amundsen in 1903–1906. Until 2009, the Arctic pack ice prevented regular marine shipping throughout most of the year, but climate change has reduced the pack ice, and this Arctic shrinkage made the waterways more navigable.[4][5][6][7] However, the contested sovereignty claims over the waters may complicate future shipping through the region: The Canadian government considers the Northwestern Passages part of Canadian Internal Waters,[8] but the United States and various European countries maintain they are an international strait or transit passage, allowing free and unencumbered passage.[9][10]

Cruise where no one has cruised before!

Cruise where no one has cruised before!

Why should we be concerned?

The issue that I have concern with will be the potential disruption of the ocean current conveyor belt and many other potential impacts on climates in the Northern Hemisphere!

NASA back in 2004 talked about the potential impacts of Arctic sea ice melt on Climate!

March 5, 2004:  Global warming could plunge North America and Western Europe into a deep freeze, possibly within only a few decades.

“That’s the paradoxical scenario gaining credibility among many climate scientists. The thawing of sea ice covering the Arctic could disturb or even halt large currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Without the vast heat that these ocean currents deliver–comparable to the power generation of a million nuclear power plants–Europe’s average temperature would likely drop 5 to 10°C (9 to 18°F), and parts of eastern North America would be chilled somewhat less. Such a dip in temperature would be similar to global average temperatures toward the end of the last ice age roughly 20,000 years ago.”

What happens if the Conveyor Belt breaks?

What happens if the Conveyor Belt breaks?

One potential is that Europe will get much colder!

Frozen Europe

Frozen Europe

Right now it seems a foregone conclusion that we will see within our lifetimes a Northwest Passage.  What does it mean for all of us?  Some will undoubtedly benefit from this financially, but in the long run I think we will be regretting it.

We have only just begun to try to understand what the potential affects that rapid sea ice melt has on our world.  The problem is what might happen if this occurs in the Antarctic?

Stay tuned!


About rsingram

Environmental Specialist, Disaster Reservist, Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control, Para-Archeologist
This entry was posted in Arctic Ocean, Climate Change, Education and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Arctic Summers Ice Free by 2020 (Opening of the Northwest Passage!)

  1. George Bower says:

    Kinda makes you wonder how some people can deny that there is global warming…..especially our idiot politicians. I was on a trip this weekend and had to listen to it.

    “Oh those Scientists. They can prove anything they want.”

    Uh huh….if you want the truth about global warming listen to Paul Gosar.

  2. Douglas Pohl says:

    You need to get out more… the Northwest Passage has been in use extensively for the last ten years – even the whales are crossing over between Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean. Several years ago a solo rower rowed through the Arctic between Greenland and Nome. Here is a good link listing boats/owners who have already completed a Northwest Passage between Davis Strait and the Bering Strait. Checkout:

    Smooth seas,

  3. rsingram says:

    It’s certainly going to get busier as the ice continues to disappear. Sounds like a trip I’d like to go on…..Regards, Rob

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