Researchers have found that sea ice across much of the Arctic is thinning twice as fast as previously thought. As the climate crisis drives up temperatures, Arctic ice is melting. All this results in a vicious circle in which more dark water is exposed to the sun’s heat, and the planet is getting more heated. The faster ice loss from China to Europe will become easier to navigate the shorter north-eastern shipping passage. It also means gas extraction and new oil is also feasible.
From satellite radar data, it isn’t easy to calculate sea ice thickness because the amount of snow cover on top varies significantly. Between 1954 and 1991, measurements by Soviet expeditions on ice floes until now snow data came. The Arctic has been drastically changed by the climate crisis, meaning this information is out of date.
The new research used the novel computer model to produce detailed snow cover estimates from 2002 to 2018. The models tracked ice floe movement, snowfall, and temperature to assess the accumulation of snow. To calculate sea ice thickness using this data showed thinning twice as fast as previously estimated in the seas around the central Arctic.
Robbie Mallett of University College London, who led the study, said: “Sea ice thickness is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic – and, when the Arctic warms, the world warms. Thicker ice acts as an insulating blanket, stopping the ocean from warming up the atmosphere in winter and protecting the ocean from the sunshine in summer. Thinner ice is also less likely to survive during the Arctic summer melt.”
Because of changes in the Arctic, extreme weather can be seen, such as floods and heatwaves around the northern hemisphere could be seen. According to Robbie, the newly exposed water enabled storms to hit coastal communities and erode coasts. Around Siberia, the opening of the shorter north-eastern shipping route means between China and Europe to transport goods less fuel is needed, leading to lower carbon emissions.
Sea ice thickness is calculated from satellite radar data that measures how high the ice sits above the sea surface. To the radar signals, snow on the top of the ice is visible, but it weighs the ice down, so it is important to know the depth of the snow.