Arc­tic Ocean could be ice-free in sum­mer as early as 2010

Times Colonist - - Top Stories - BY MARIANNEWH­ITE CanWest News Ser­vice

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 told CanWest News Ser­vice, 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 Ocean 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 any­more, 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.

Arc­tic sun­set: Sci­en­tists are fore­cast­ing clear sail­ing and they’re not happy about it.

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