Climate Change: Less Artic Ice and More Water by 2050

First Posted: Nov 02, 2015 08:16 PM EST

By the 2050s, there will be a lot less ice and a lot more water in the Arctic Ocean. Scientists have found that the area will see at least 60 days a year of open water at this time period.

"We hear all the time about how sea ice extent in the Arctic is going down," said Katy Barnhart, one of the researchers, in a news release. "That's an important measurement if you are trying to understand broad impacts of climate change in the Arctic, but it doesn't tell us about how the changes in the sea ice in the Arctic are going to affect specific places."

In this latest study, the researchers investigated the very local impacts of water expansion patterns in the Arctic. They used climate simulations to see how the number of open water days change from 1850 to 2100 in our planet's northernmost ocean. The scientists also wanted to understand when open water conditions in specific locations would be completely different from preindustrial conditions.

"We wanted to highlight places that had interesting or different stories with respect to the patterns of Arctic Ocean, atmosphere, and sea ice motion-thins like coastal erosion or connections to potential sea routes," said Barnhart. "Since we don't expect the impacts of Arctic sea ice loss to be exactly the same in Alaska as in Greenland, we looked at open water days to provide a more nuanced picture of sea ice change at specific locations."

In the end, the researchers found the entire Arctic coastline and most of the Arctic Ocean will experience an additional 60 days of open water each year by the 2050s, and many sites will have more than 100 additional days.

"The Arctic is warming and the sea ice is melting, with impacts on Artic people and ecosystems," said Jennifer Kay, one of the researchers. "By the end of this century, assuming a scenario of continued business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, the Arctic will be in a new regime with respect to open water, fully outside the realm of what we've seen in the past."

The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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