It’s no secret human-caused global warming has been melting ice in the Arctic sea. Yet, estimates show we may be living in an ice-free Arctic sooner than we thought.
By 2050, the Arctic Ocean will start to experience ice-free summers unless we reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically around the world.
According to two studies published in the journal Nature Climate Change, even a small change in global warming could make all the difference. We’re talking half-a-degree Celsius kind of change.
Celsius, or centigrade, is a temperature scale that uses 0 degrees and 100 degrees as the freezing and boiling point of water. Half a degree Celsius is less than a degree Fahrenheit. To convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, simply multiply by 1.8 and add 32.
Researchers in both studies analyzed what would happen to the Arctic if humans managed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the end of the century. The Paris Climate agreement specifically aims to keep the global warming within this century below 2 degrees Celsius.
Researchers found that these 2 degrees may be all that’s necessary to benefit the Arctic. By limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we may be able to reduce the thinning of the Arctic ice through 2100.
“Everything that happens in the climate system is connected,” said Alexandra Jahn. Jahn is the lead author of one of the global warming studies and a climate scientist at the University of Colorado.
The warming of the Arctic has the potential to impact fisheries, geopolitics, ecosystems, polar bears, and even mid-latitude weather. The loss of sea ice is also expected to escalate the effects of global warming in general.
“There’s a strongly reduced probability of experiencing ice-free summers if warming can actually be limited to one and a half degrees instead of two,” Jahn said.
Jahn’s study shows that limiting global warming by 1.5 Celsius would reduce the probability of an ice-free Arctic by 30%. Yet, limiting global warming by 1.5 degrees isn’t enough to completely stop Arctic ice from thinning.
The Arctic, Jahn says, will still experience significant ice reductions compared to today even with a 1.5-degree limitation on global warming. Unfortunately, the chances we might get a handle on fossil fuel emissions any time soon to reduce Arctic sea ice thinning aren’t favorable.
“I think we are destined for a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean,” said Mark Serreze, the direction of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The NSIDC regularly provides updates on the Arctic based on satellite monitoring data. “I don’t see that this is stoppable given our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Still, global dependence on fossil fuels doesn’t negate the benefits that could be gained by reducing global warming by lower than 2 degrees Celsius. The fewer CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere the better for the environment and for us, regardless of destiny.