Scientists Predict Arctic Could Be Ice-Free Within Decades


Bad news for what is now the beginning of the “melt season” in the Arctic. Right now, the sea ice extent maximum appears to be tied for the lowest ever measured by satellites as the spring begins, according to scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center. And because of the trend of how the amount of Arctic sea ice has been spiraling downward in the last decade, some scientists are predicting the Arctic Ocean may be ice free in the summers within the next several decades.

“I’m not surprised by the new data because we’ve seen a downward trend in winter sea ice extent for some time now,” said Walt Meier, a research scienitist with the NSIDC.

The seven lowest maximum Arctic sea ice extents measured by satellites all have occurred in the last seven years, and the from the latest data, the NSIDC research team believes the lowest annual maximum ice extent of 5,650,000 square miles occurred on March 7 of this year.

The maximum ice extent was 463,000 square miles below the 1979-2000 average, an area slightly larger than the states of Texas and California combined. The 2011 measurements were tied with those from 2006 as the lowest maximum sea ice extents measured since satellite record keeping began in 1979.

Virtually all climate scientists believe shrinking Arctic sea ice is tied to warming temperatures in the region caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases being pumped into Earth’s atmosphere.

Meier said the Arctic sea ice functions like an air conditioner for the global climate system by naturally cooling air and water masses, playing a key role in ocean circulation and reflecting solar radiation back into space. In the Arctic summer months, sunlight is absorbed by the growing amounts of open water, raising surface temperatures and causing more ice to melt.

“I think one of the reasons the Arctic sea ice maximum extent is declining is that the autumn ice growth is delayed by warmer temperatures and the ice extent is not able to ‘catch up’ through the winter,” said Meier. “In addition, the clock runs out on the annual ice growth season as temperatures start to rise along with the sun during the spring months.”

Since satellite record keeping began in 1979, the maximum Arctic sea ice extent has occurred as early as Feb. 18 and as late as March 31, with an average date of March 6. Since the researchers determine the maximum sea ice extent using a five-day running average, there is small chance the data could change.

As of March 22, ice extent declined for five straight days. But February and March tend to be quite variable, so there is still a chance that the ice extent could expand again. Ice near the edge is thin and is highly sensitive to weather, scientists say, moving or melting quickly in response to changing winds and temperatures, and it often oscillates near the maximum extent for several days or weeks, as it has done this year.

In early April the NSIDC will issue a formal announcement on the 2011 maximum sea ice extent with a full analysis of the winter ice growth season, including graphics comparing 2011 to the long-term record.

Source: NSIDC, University of Colorado-Boulder

33 Replies to “Scientists Predict Arctic Could Be Ice-Free Within Decades”

  1. Why did you title this article “Scientists predict”, why not say “Boulder University predicts” ?
    Articles like this is eroding the credibility that comes from Science and real Scientists.

    1. could it be because it was SCIENTISTS at Boulder University?
      grammar like yours erodes your credibility by the way – your sentence should read:
      “Articles like this ARE eroding…..” learn how to express yourself correctly before you criticize.

  2. Oh yeah colleges cant have any scientist in them. Those only grow in the wild. Living in Austin I feel as if someone is eroding the credibility of TX. ha

  3. There are 2 components to Arctic sea ice: The total area covered, and the ice thickness; with the corollary of the quality of its thickness. Lately the quality and the thickness of the ice has been deteriorating, along with the total area. Quality meaning: is it one-year ice, or multi-year ice, that makes it through the summer and into next winter, and what percentage of the total ice sheet is multi-year ice.

  4. Virtually all climate scientists believe shrinking Arctic sea ice is tied to warming temperatures in the region caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases being pumped into Earth’s atmosphere.

    I’d like to point out this little ditty mentioned in the article as well.

  5. What does this have to do with space, space exploration? Sure seems like a political agenda is being promulgated here. Can we just stick to space, space science, space exploration? Please.

    1. I do think that the planet Earth is routinely discussed in Astronomy, because it’s uh in space too.
      I’m also not sure how subject matter which is supported by the wide spread consensus of scientists “promulgates” politics- that is, unless you disagree with it in spite of the scientific community’s suport of it.
      However, there is not reason to get upset about it, and it seems illogical to ban Earth climate discussions from a University blog. If you have disagreements, or further interest with the BU scientists findings, read their peer reviews.

      1. fgmoon353’s reply is spot on. I’d add that the observations are made using spacecraft.
        Climate change observations are certainly on topic for universe today.

      2. I don’t know if I believe in human induced climate change or not. I do know that the vast majority of these scientists that support the human induced climate change hypothesis are government employees. Obviously there’s a strong opportunity for conflict of interest here. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say the scientific community suggests that they’ve discovered new information that clearly indicates that changes in the sun’s output are directly responsible for planetary warming. Once this becomes common knowledge would the “green” politicians continue to want to fund these “not-green” scientists? Of course not, they’ll want to spend our tax dollars on something else that supports their agenda. I’m just saying that just because a certain community, including scientists, says something doesn’t mean that their integrity can’t be compromised. Climate change is such a politically hot topic I prefer to shy away from it. I don’t trust politicians and I definitely don’t trust the agendas they promulgate to grasp for power.

        BTW…I didn’t suggest that the university blog restrain from discussing climate change, I suggest that Universe Today restrains from doing so. I just prefer that I get political information from other sources and that my sources for science oriented information stay away from political topics.

      3. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you ought to be told: NASA is composed entirely of government employees! All those pictures from Voyager, Cassini, MRO, etc. are horribly tainted by subversive green agendas. You might think you are looking at a harmless picture of Mimas against Saturn’s rings, but in reality your mind is being rotted by liberalobots whose sole objective is to extract money from your pocketbook for their Big Government agenda!

        Merely by reading Universe Today you have become a tool of the conspiracy. In fact, I have resolved in future to distrust anyone who comments on a UT post.

      4. JV, you write total conspiratorial nonsense. The idea that this research is some conspiracy to destroy America, or to grab power, or …, is pure Glen Beck – Faux News nonsense. Damned, I long for the day when Americans are done with this BS.


      5. Hi LC, I think you read more into what I’m saying that what I’m trying to get across. Let me ask you this question: If all the scientists at RJ Reynolds told us that smoking cigarettes is safe, would you believe them? Is this a non-sense question? If so, why?

        So far, no one here has disputed the points I make. I see people making some jokes, but no one is directly addressing my stated concern. Just to say it’s nonsense is not a rebuttal, it’s a cop out.

      6. There is no political agenda behind the science. The problem of CO_2 perturbation of the climate was not raised because of some political or policy intention. It came about because the data began to show it. Politics comes in when we start talking about what we are going to do about it. The problem is not good for business, or business as it currently exists. This is what makes it political. So the corporations which have the money manufacture the “science” they want, and what they want is something “good for business.” Then in creating faux science this then pits the actual science against those with these various agendas.

        Look at the real stuff (PNAS AAAS etc), and not dodgy websites. You might just argue that the problem is not grave enough to do anything about. Of course that could be a considerable risk. The planetary climate problem will not go away because you don’t like it, or because you have various ideas there are political games, which do not really exist, at play in the scientific community. Nature does not care about your frekking politics. If you tweek a system in some way, such as by dumping lots of CO_2 into atmosphere, there will be a response and in this case entropy. It can’t be any other way, and political silliness does not change the actual facts.


      7. @ Johnny Velocity

        You know what, I would be happy and glad if all this would not be true. If the earth would not be warming, and especially not on our account. It would make many things a lot simpler and less alarming.

        But based on the evidence we have: This will just be a dream. Global warming IS happening and it IS due to us. Never before has there been such a rise in temperature in such a SHORT period of time. THAT is the alarming thing. Global temperatures used to be higher in ancient times, and also cooler. But those changes were either slow (meaning occurring over thousands of years) or they were so fast that they caused a mass extinction. We are on the brink of the latter.

        I want this world as good as it can be. But we don’t! Beware of the consequences!
        Human beings are doing one big experiment, but we don’t know how it will end. To say it dramatically

        We are playing with forces we cannot comprehend!

      8. Slow down, your move to fast. You gotta make the morning last…

        Oops! Johnny. Your moving too far ahead of the pack. I’d suggest you stick to the question at hand and not rabbit-on about the whole enchilada of climate change. Hypothetically speaking, I think you are missing the point somewhat. …. all is groovy.

    2. Sorry to be late to the party. As touched on in other comments, I believe, studying solar system planets and exoplanet climates are helped by studying Earth climate and vice versa. And it is done with the same instruments in many cases (spectroscopy).

      Can we just stick to space, space science, space exploration (and science at large in the universe, of course)? Please.

  6. Great response vague…!!! Does this mean you now also distrust your own posts?

    To be clear, I’ve not invoked any conspiracy, I’ve just said that I don’t trust government employees that support political agendas. You are absolutely right that NASA is also to be carefully scrutinized, they’ve got to prove their worth as well. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, NASA appeals to a broader political spectrum and doesn’t focus on one political hot button to make their money.

  7. @Johnny V: It appears you’re a new commenter here, so let me save you some grief. You really don’t want to engage in arguing with LC, he’ll bury you. Just a word to the wise. Feel free to espouse your opinions, but attacking LC will result in you looking silly. Wait until HSBC weighs in……

      1. Indeed HSBC or DRFLIMMER or LTOM insights would be quite interesting to
        hear in response to JV alias Mr conspiration…

      2. Thanks for mentioning me 🙂

        The thing is, you can’t debate with people like JV, because they think they know more than “experts” (yeah, stand up to them! Because experts have no idea!…) or they just don’t want to listen. It’s similar to the EU crap. The disadvantage on climate issues is that I am not an expert in that field, and that my knowledge is also that what I read on the internet.

        But what I KNOW is that we should take a look at Venus. That planet was once considered a twin of Earth with forests and jungles beneath its cloud cover. And only the (mostly) Russian spacecrafts revealed its true nature: A hellish world, a pressure of 90 atmospheres, acid rain and a runaway greenhouse effect that led to surface temperatures of several hundreds of degrees Celsius. And what do you think? The atmosphere contains huge amounts of CO_2.

        My question to the deniers is always: Is it worth the risk? We only have ONE chance, and I say, we should not risk it.

        Concerning business (what LC brought up): Indeed, the “old” ones don’t want to cease. But actually that’s what happens when there is change. And that’s not a problem. New industries will develop. And the nation that goes first will have the lead! So, why do we still protect the old things when one could lead the future?
        (Oh, yeah, of course. The share holders, I forgot….)

      3. Others more familiar with planetary science and hypotheses on the evolution of planets might want to weigh in. Both Mars and Venus for the first billion years or so of their existence might have been similar to Earth at that time. Venus, Earth and Mars had oceans, and complex chemistry, and all these planets had climates that ranged from cool (Mars) to warm (Venus). So Mars and Venus may well have had the pre-biotic chemical evolution for life, and maybe even life itself.

        Mars clearly had oceans and it appears that it had a complex environment somewhat similar to Earth. All of the sedimentary geology on Mars is clear evidence of a water environment in the past. Mars lost its magnetic field, and with its weak gravity lost most of its atmosphere. The loss of a magnetic field meant Mars was not protected from solar wind that could over time cast its atmosphere into space. There are some ideas about a huge impact with a Ceres mass asteroid or a moon. Mars went dry and cold. If there is life there it ekes out a living in the soil and subsoil where it is free of solar UV and can grab a bit of water here and there, which can become liquid in the presence of sand particle surface area and a bit of warmth.

        Venus is more difficult to know about its past. Yet some do think it was similar to Earth, but overheated with time and became the autoclave planet it now is. It too may have spawned an early form of life, but if so that clearly is dead now, and I doubt we will ever know anything about such a possibility. Venus is probably for a long time going to remain a mystery. It really is not possible to do extensive surface probing there as the environment is far too forbidding.

        Then there is Earth. The history of this planet, which we know far more about than any other, does indicate climate variation in the past. We human are performing a little uncontrolled experiment by changing the carbon chemistry of the planet, in particular the atmosphere. BTW, it should be pointed out we are also perturbing the nitrogen chemical cycle as well. The consequences of this will probably range from bad to disastrous. The difficulty with this uncontrolled experiment is that we have to live with what ever outcome is obtained. This would be analogous to a spaceship, where the crew or passengers decide to take out parts of the craft or its life support system in order to facilitate various forms of entertainment. That is maybe not a good idea.

        George Carlin was the great prophet of our age. He has a routine on “Saving the Planet,” which you can find on YouTube. This routine starts on in his usual curmudgeonly way casting the environmentalists in a bad light. However, he gets down to brass tacks later on in the routine. Human beings on this planet are as he says a “surface nuisance,” which will in time be cast off. 100 million years from now life on Earth will be doing just fine, and we (along with a lot of the stuff we have made and thrown out) will be items in the geological layers.


      4. 100 million years from now life on Earth will be doing just fine, and we (along with a lot of the stuff we have made and thrown out) will be items in the geological layers.

        How true.
        However, until then we have to deal with the present and a gloomy near future if we don’t act quickly. My worst fears are worldwide wars. And as Einstein said:

        I don’t know the weapons of the 3rd World War. But the weapons of the 4th will be axes and spears.

    1. @William928

      I am sure LC doesn’t need a “goon” skating around the site trying to intimidate other posters.

      Of course I am casting you as Dave Semenko and LC as Wayne Gretsky:)

  8. Normally I’d just recommend that one ignores posts like this, since the topic of climate science has become something of a religion for those involved with it.

    For reference to those engineers/scientists who don’t believe the science is settled on this, you can look at “Fact-based climate debate” By Lee C. Gerhard, IPCC Expert Reviewer from

    Relevent for this discussion,
    “• The 2009 minimum Arctic ice extent was significantly larger than the previous two years. The 2009 Antarctic maximum ice extent was significantly above the 30-year average. There are only 30 years of records.

    For example, some argue that the Arctic is melting, with the warmest-ever temperatures. One should ask, “How long is ever?” The answer is since 1979. And then ask, “Is it still warming?” The answer is unequivocally “No.” Earth temperatures are cooling. Similarly, the word “unprecedented” cannot be legitimately used to describe any climate change in the last 8,000 years.”

    1. Earth temperatures are cooling.

      Compared to exactly what? Last year?

      We have good data for a few hundred years now. And the trend is obvious: Temperatures are rising. Most of the hottest year during the last 100 years occurred during the last decade. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so.

    2. ICECAP is a climate skeptics blog. Gerhard has been a member of IPCC, yet IPCC presents the science otherwise: AGW is a fact to ~ 2 sigma certainty (presently). Earth is one unique and sick puppy, yet we can affirm its diagnosis better than for a patient in a statistical sample (@ ~ 80 % accuracy of medical diagnosis).

      There is now also predictability on a local level according to a review by Stott et al. So while I can’t say as I’m writing this (not having the paper handy), it is plausible that this result is predicted too.

  9. The problem with UT getting into the climate fray, beside the fact that climate is planetary verses spacial, is that there will be NO civil discussion. Climate science is now all about believers vs sceptics, with rarely a crossover (like JCurry), and whenever any forum takes a position, they will alienate some of their readers. The once great Scientific American comes to mind. Convincing arguments, all endorsed by a plethora of experts and scientists, can be made for either side, and neither can ‘win’ the argument in the short time. We could have a definite answer by the middle of this century, or not. And, though it doesn’t matter, both sides have a ‘consensus’ among their own ranks.

    1. UT getting into the climate fray

      There is no debate “fray” or position in this, UT is neutrally presenting the (good) science as it is known. The scientific debate on AGW is over (se IPCC), even if the political remains.

      We could have a definite answer by the middle of this century, or not.

      Actually, from the Stott paper and the IPCC -07 one can predict that 3 sigma certainty of theories will be achieved in ~ 10 years or less, because the warming signal is increasing so rapidly. It is even odds that it will happen before next IPCC -14.

  10. @alcyone: My intention is not to intimidate anyone, I’m merely pointing out that it may not be wise to attack LC without utilising sound data. I’m well aware that Lawrence doesn’t need me to defend him. Thanks for the complement, though.;)

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