The last time the Arctic went ice-free during summers was 127,000 years ago, during an unusually warm period for Earth, with researchers struggling to understand the process. Now, researchers are warning Earth is facing the same fate once again – but this time it is due to human activity.
During the spring and summer months in the Arctic, shallow pools of water known as ‘melt ponds’ form on the Arctic sea ice.
These melt ponds play an important part in the ecosystem of the Arctic, as they help to determine how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space.
For example, more melt ponds equate to less reflection, meaning more ice absorbs more heat and melts further.
Now, the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre climate model has revealed as the Arctic continues to warm in an ever heating globe, by 2035, the summers of Arctic could see a complete loss of sea ice.
Joint lead author Dr Maria Vittoria Guarino, Earth System Modeller at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said: “High temperatures in the Arctic have puzzled scientists for decades. Unravelling this mystery was technically and scientifically challenging.
“For the first time, we can begin to see how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial.
“The advances made in climate modelling means that we can create a more accurate simulation of the Earth’s past climate, which, in turn gives us greater confidence in model predictions for the future.”
Dr Louise Sime, the group head of the Palaeoclimate group and joint lead author at BAS, added: “We know the Arctic is undergoing significant changes as our planet warms.
“By understanding what happened during Earth’s last warm period we are in a better position to understand what will happen in the future.
“The prospect of loss of sea-ice by 2035 should really be focusing all our minds on achieving a low-carbon world as soon as humanly feasible.”
Global warming is contributing to a loss of ice cover in the Arctic and Antarctic circles and researchers believe Greenland could be one of the worst affected.
The ice covering Greenland is up to three kilometres thick in certain places, covering an area seven times the amount of the UK.
If all of this ice were to melt, it would cause sea levels to rise by a staggering seven metres, which could have major implications for the UK.
Climate models have shown a sea level rise of more than two metres could permanently submerge large parts of the British coastline with the likes of Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth and parts of East London and the Thames Estuary all under threat.