Arctic Ice Melting Faster than We Thought

Last week, the researchers at the University of Calgary released a finding concerning the arctic ice melting faster than we thought. On Tuesday, their appearance was published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal for everybody to see. What’s it all about? Simply put, it seems that up until now scientists have been overestimating the thickness of the seasonal sea ice.

Why Did This Happen?

Apparently, the specialists were wrong by 25%. The cause for this measurement error of the satellites is the salt found in the snow cover. This can speed up the melting process and we could end up with the ice gone sooner than we expected. Premature sea ice melt is especially dangerous for the environment.

Generally, scientists use satellites to determine the sea ice. Up until now, they have been using the measurements offered by the CryoSat-2, which is the satellite belonging to the European Space Agency. It was the most prominent satellite that fulfilled this task.

However, this method can become quite restrictive since satellites offer only one vantage point, so there’s not much data. Vishnu Nandan, who is the lead author of the study we were mentioning in the beginning, declared for the University of Calgary that the problem here is that the ice is covered in snow, and the snow is salty in the proximity of the sea ice surface.

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He added that the microwave measurements provided by the satellites are not able to penetrate the salty snow well. As such, the satellite can’t measure the proper sea ice freeboard and its readings overestimate how thick the ice is, in fact. The freeboard refers to the ice that can be noticed above the sea levels. John Yackel, who is a co-researcher for the study, declared that according to their results, scientists should consider salinity in every future estimate that relies on satellite data. He also said that they knew the effect might be present there, but they imagined it was somewhere between 5 and 10%.

How Did They Solve This?

To correct this error, Nandan, together with his team, struggled to find a correction factor. They hoped to find a solution that would let them accurately measure the salinity and consider the melt it might cause when measuring the level of the sea ice. The answer? A combination of microwave theory and some snow property data gathered in Canada about the Arctic. Through this, they could reach the result and see what is the real arctic ice melting rhythm.

Before, ever since 1979, the consensus was that the sea ice levels are declining at a rate of 17% per decade. However, the new discoveries made researchers reconsider this number. Following their findings, now they think the ice might start melting even faster during summer. The extra quantity of melted ice caused by the sale will trigger its disappearance in the summer sooner than we might have previously thought. Sadly, Nandan thinks that the seasonal sea ice might disappear completely in the summer at some point between the years 2030 and 2040, instead of 2040 and 2050 as they previously believed.

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Serious Consequences

The bad news is that, in case we end up having ice-free summers throughout the entire Arctic Ocean, there are serious consequences. The Arctic ice melting faster is going to affect the global weather patterns since it will impact the frequency and magnitude of the major storms. Let’s not forget about the huge hurricanes and storms we witnessed this year. Such a dramatic change is going to trigger dangerous longer-term trends, as well as some extreme weather phenomena.

Among other consequences, we might see we can count the alteration of the Arctic marine ecosystem. As such, animals like the polar bears will find it increasingly harder to hunt and feed themselves. Furthermore, this can lead to an imbalance in the way in which mammals and not only feed and reproduce. Not to mention that with the ice gone, they won’t have a place to stay and to hunt. The extra sunlight is going to affect the entire Arctic Ocean food web as well, even for smaller beings.

Why Is the Arctic So Important?

There are some people who don’t understand why is a single ocean so important for the entire planet. That’s why we will try to explain the mechanism behind this essential area on Earth. The thing here is that the entire area has the role of a coolant, a refrigerator for the entire climate system found on Earth. Yackel explained that currently, human activity is triggering it to warm faster than the equator warms up.

A consequence is that the jet stream changes completely. By itself, the jet stream doesn’t know where it should flow since there is no temperature or strong pressure gradient to guide it. Therefore, disrupting the Arctic area will have serious consequences on the weather on the entire globe.

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What Are the Scientists Planning to Do?

There isn’t much that scientists can do about the Arctic ice melting faster than we thought. According to Yackel, the entire research team wants to go back to the Arctic Archipelago in Canada in March. There, they are planning to continue their work and try to find as much as possible about this process. Moreover, they hope to find there further tools and data that can help them assess the current situation and make more accurate estimations for the future.


Following a study made last week by a team of researchers at the University of Calgary, it seems that we are facing an accelerated process of the Arctic ice melting. The culprit here is the salt in the snow layer on the ice found next to the water. As such, the data provided by the satellites proved scientists their estimations were not accurate.

As such, it seems that we are going to have a summer with no ice in the Arctic sooner than we thought. This is particularly important since the entire area works as a coolant for the entire planet. As such, the ice melt will affect global weather patterns, as well as other extreme phenomena.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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