Loss of Arctic summer sea ice ‘inevitable’ within 30 years, report says

"We're starting to see something that can’t be saved."

By Gloria Dickie, Reuters - November 7, 2022

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Climate change is rapidly melting away the world’s frozen regions, with summertime Arctic sea ice sure to vanish by 2050, according to a report published on Monday.

In just this year, rains fell on East Antarctica in March, as air temperatures were unusually warm. During the summer, the Alps lost 5 percent of their ice cover. And in September, Greenland set a new record for melting at that time of year, said the report by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative research network.

Following the planet’s eight warmest years on record, there is growing evidence that the world’s icy regions are melting at increasing rates — and far faster than scientists had expected.

The newest report’s authors highlighted the “terminal diagnosis” for the ice that forms and floats atop the Arctic Ocean each summer.

“Just as there’s no longer a credible path to keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, there’s no credible path to avoiding an ice-free summer,” said co-author Robbie Mallett, a sea ice researcher at University College London.

The report’s release coincided with the start of the U.N. climate summit, which runs through Nov. 18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. On Monday evening, Arctic campaigners and Indigenous youth from the region planned a media event to mark the demise of sea ice.

Mallett said COP27 talks would do little to save the summer sea ice.

“We’re starting to see something that can’t be saved,” he said.

Last year, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said summer sea ice would be lost even if warming peaked at 1.6 degrees above the preindustrial average. The world is currently on track for 2.8 degrees of warming by 2100.

If summer sea ice is lost, no multiyear sea ice — sea ice that persists in the ocean from year to year — will remain.

“A distinct environment on Earth is going to go extinct,” said Mallett.

This will have a profound impact on a region that is home to more than 4.5 million, and which faces increasing erosion as climate change fuels stronger winds and waves, he said.

Scientists say the world in this decade must cut carbon-dioxide emissions in half from 2005 levels, and reach net zero by 2050, to prevent runaway climate change with extreme impacts.

But even if this were achieved, the world’s ice-covered regions would begin to stabilize only at some point between 2040 and 2080, the report said. Glacier melt would continue for more than a century before slowing by 2200.

This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Today and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

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