Arctic Sea Ice May Have Expanded by a Third in 2013, But It's Still at Risk

First Posted: Jul 21, 2015 12:25 PM EDT

The cool summer of 2013 boosted the amount of Arctic sea ice, but that doesn't mean that the Arctic isn't still at risk. Scientists have discovered that the sea ice increased by a third after the summer of 2013.

This latest study actually used 88 million measurements of sea ice thickness recorded by ESA's CryoSat-2 mission between 2010 and 2014. This revealed that there was a 14 percent reduction in the volume of summertime Arctic sea ice between 2010 and 2012, but the volume of ice jumped by 41 percent in 2013 (relative to the previous year), when the summer was 5 percent cooler than the previous year.

With that said, this doesn't mean that the ice won't continue melting. If Arctic temperatures continue to rise as expected, variability as seen in 2013 will not prevent sea ice from diminishing overall.

"These people are not making any claim that we're going to have some big recovery [in sea ice]," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center who wasn't involved in the study, in an interview with The Washington Post. "But it's going to occur in fits and starts because the sea ice is highly variable-we're going to go up some years, down in others."

In fact, the summer of 2013 shows that the sea ice is variable enough that weather changes could impact future predictions. With that said, it's still clear that the ice is in long-term decline, even with the new findings.

"Understanding what controls the amount of Arctic sea ice takes us one step closer to making reliable predictions of how long it will last, which is important because it is a key component of Earth's climate system," said Andy Shepherd, co-author of the paper, in a news release. "Although the jump in volume means that the region is unlikely to be ice free this summer, we still expect temperatures to rise in the future, and so the events of 2013 will have simply wound the clock back a few years on the long-term pattern of decline. Our goal is to make sure we do not lose this unique capability to monitor Arctic sea ice when the mission ends."

The findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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