Associated PressJuly 2, 2021 11:24:29 AMT
Part of the Arctic is called the “Last Ice Rink” because floating sea ice is usually so thick that it is likely to withstand global warming for decades. So the scientists were shocked last summer when suddenly there was enough open water for the ship to pass.
The opening, documented by German icebreaker researchers, opened in late July and August in the Wandel Sea north of Greenland. It was largely due to freak weather, but the thinning of sea ice from decades of climate change was a major factor, according to a study in Communications Earth and Environment on Thursday.
Although scientists have said that most of the Arctic could be free of the summer sea by the middle of the century, the last ice area was not part of the equation. They think an area of one million square miles will be ice-free in the summer until about 2100, said Kent Moore, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Toronto.
“It’s called the last ice area for a reason. We thought it was kind of stable,” said another author, Mike Steele, a marine scientist at the University of Washington. “It’s just pretty shocking. … In 2020, this area melted crazy. “
Researchers believe the area – north of Greenland and Canada – could become the last refuge for animals, such as polar bears that depend on ice, said Kristin Laidre, author and biologist at the University of Washington.
The main reason for the sudden ice loss was the exceptionally strong wind that pushed the ice out of the area and off the coast of Greenland, Moore said.
It had happened in smaller, rare episodes, but this time was different, Moore said. The researchers used computer simulations and 40 years of Arctic data, calculating that “the signal for climate change was significant – an estimated 20%,” Moore said.
Previously, the thicker ice of the Wandel Sea would have resisted strong winds, but by 2020 it was thinner and “more easily broken and pushed,” said National Snow and Ice Data Center researcher Walt Meier, who was not part of the study.
Another part of the last ice area off the island of Ellesmere in Canada had open waters after part of the Milne ice shelf collapsed in July 2020, but scientists are still investigating it to see if there is a link to climate change, Moore said.