Despite the rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice in recent years, the ice may temporarily stabilize or somewhat expand at times over the next few decades, new research indicates.
A new computer modeling study reinforces previous findings by other research teams that the level of Arctic sea ice loss observed in recent decades cannot be explained by natural causes alone, and that the ice will eventually melt away during summer if the climate continues to warm.
But in an unexpected new result, the research team found that Arctic ice under current climate conditions is as likely to expand as it is to contract for periods of up to about a decade.
“One of the results that surprised us all was the number of computer simulations that indicated a temporary halt to the loss of the ice,” says Jennifer Kay, the lead author and a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “The computer simulations suggest that we could see a 10-year period of stable ice or even an increase in the extent of the ice. Even though the observed ice loss has accelerated over the last decade, the fate of sea ice over the next decade depends not only on human activity but also on climate variability that cannot be predicted.”
Kay explains that variations in atmospheric conditions such as wind patterns could, for example, temporarily halt the sea ice loss. Still, the ultimate fate of the ice in a warming world is clear.
“When you start looking at longer-term trends, 50 or 60 years, there’s no escaping the loss of ice in the summer,” Kay says.
The study was published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.