Arctic sea ice thinning twice as fast as previously thought, suggests study

Parts of the Arctic sea ice are thinning up to twice as fast as previously thought, meaning some parts of the region could become ice-free by 2040, according to new research.

The findings will raise fresh concerns about global climate change as well as the potential increases in extreme weather and flooding in coastal parts of the world.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) used data from a European Space Agency satellite to analyse changes to Arctic sea ice, which is frozen seawater floating on the ocean surface.

Robbie Mallett, a PhD student at UCL Earth Sciences, and the study’s lead author, said previous calculations of sea ice thickness were outdated.

“Because sea ice has begun forming later and later in the year, the snow on top has less time to accumulate,” he said.

The researchers also looked at the impact the changes could have on indigenous communities that live in the northernmost part of the world.

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“The thinning of coastal sea ice is also worrying for indigenous communities, as it leaves settlements on the coast increasingly exposed to strong weather and wave action from the emerging ocean,” Mr Mallett said.

The Arctic, together with the Antarctic, are sometimes known as the world’s refrigerator, with white snow and ice in the region reflecting heat back into space, while other parts of the planet continue to absorb heat.

Recent research papers have also explored how the change in conditions there have impacted the weather here in Britain.

Findings from earlier this year by scientists at Oulu University in Finland concluded that ice loss in the Barents Sea, which is part of the Arctic, helped to fuel the beast from the East, a period of severe weather in Britain between February and March 2018 which caused billions of pounds worth of disruption.

They found the extreme weather was triggered by a polar vortex of cold air and low pressure, resulting in heavy snowfall over northern Europe.

Professor Alun Hubbard, one of the scientists involved in that project, believes more could be on the way.

“It feels like the Arctic’s a long way from the UK, it’s not really, The problem is what goes on in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. If the Arctic stops absorbing that heat, that means trouble, it means that all of our weather systems are going to change.”


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By Shingi Mararike, news correspondent