Arctic ice loss equivalent to 20 years of man-made CO2, says polar scientist

By RTCC staff

The current loss of Arctic ice could double mankind’s contribution to global warming, according to a UK polar expert.

Cambridge University’s Professor Peter Wadhams told the BBC’s Newsnight programme the polar ice cap was “heading for oblivion”, and its disappearance would cause the region to heat rapidly.

“You are replacing a bright surface which reflects nearly all the radiation failing on it by a dark surface which absorbs nearly all,” he said. “The extra radiation that is absorbed from our calculations is the equivalent of about 20 years of additional carbon dioxide being added by man.”

The Arctic’s summer sea ice coverage halved between 1979 (when satellite records began) and 2007 – reducing coverage from 2% to 1% of the Earth’s surface. This summer saw sea ice reach records lows over a week before the official ice minimum is usually calculated.

Polar expert says the loss of sea ice in the Arctic could be contributing as much to global warming as 20 years of CO2 (Source: NASA)

The polar ice cap reflects almost all the sunlight back into the atmosphere – acting as a giant parasol – known as the albedo effect.As the ice melts, more sunlight and energy is absorbed by the dark waters revealed below, contributing to warming.

Wadhams warns that parts of the Arctic Ocean are now as warm in the summer as the North Sea is in the winter.

Scientists still disagree over when we could expect to see the Arctic ice free during the summer months. Recent analysis from the European Space Agency predicts this could happen by the end of the decade.

Delicate region

Professor Wadhams has spent the summer examining the impacts of global warming on the Arctic.

The melting ice has made the region’s oil and gas deposits more accessible than ever before – and in a recent interview with RTCC, Wadhams explained the potential complications involved with any potential oil spill.

“You would have a kind of oil sandwich,” he said, arguing that it would be impossible to clear a major spill. The oil comes up under the ice and forms a layer, new ice then grows under that layer and the ice moves away.

“So you are having a continuous trail of oiled ice spreading through the Arctic and the oil is inaccessible because new ice has grown underneath it. The oil doesn’t then re-enter the environment until the ice flow melts in the summer.”

Related Articles:

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Arctic could be ice-free in summer by end of the decade, according to European Space Agency

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