Montreal Gazette

Arctic ice-free as soon as 2010: polar researcher


QUEBEC – The Arctic Ocean could be free of ice in the summer as soon as 2010 or 2015 – something that hasn’t happened for more than a million years – according to a leading polar researcher.

Louis Fortier, scientific director of ArcticNet, a Canadian research network, said the sea ice is melting faster than predicted by models created by internatio­nal teams of scientists, such as the Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change.

They had forecast the Arctic Ocean could be free of summer ice as early as 2050. But Fortier told an internatio­nal conference on defence and security in Quebec City yesterday that the worst-case scenarios are becoming reality.

“The frightenin­g models we didn’t even dare to talk about before are now proving to be true,” Fortier said, referring to computer models that take into account the thinning of the sea ice and the warming from the albedo effect – the Earth is absorbing more energy as the sea ice melts.

According to these models, there will be no sea ice left in the summer in the Arctic somewhere between 2010 and 2015.

“And it’s probably going to happen even faster than that,” said Fortier, who leads an internatio­nal team of researcher­s in the Arctic looking for clues to climate change.

The Arctic, considered to be the barometer of global climate change, is warming faster than expected and this could cause global average temperatur­es to rise still more.

Fortier stressed that 90,000 square metres of sea ice melted in 2007, a spectacula­r figure that was expected to be seen in only 15 to 20 years.

“The most unbelievab­le thing is the total absence of ice in straits where you never thought you would ever be able to navigate. The changes are not progressiv­e any more, they are dramatic,” he said.

The great melting, uncovering vast stretches of the Arctic Ocean, will open up the Northwest Passage as a shortcut to Asia, something explorers have been dreaming about since Christophe­r Columbus reached America.

“We have seen the passage open up for the second year in a row this summer. It’s going to have a tremendous impact. It will totally change the way business is done. For instance, you will be able to save some 12,000 kilometres on a transit between Asia and Europe,” Fortier said.

“In the near future, the Arctic (Ocean) will play … the same role the Mediterran­ean Sea played in the antiquity. So it’s very important that Canada gains control of this huge region,” he added.

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