Arctic ice to shrink 18% below average in 2014

Scientists forecast that sea ice will continue downward spiral, while El Nino means 2014 could be hottest year ever

Pic: Gerard Van der Leun/Flickr

Pic: Gerard Van der Leun/Flickr

By Sophie Yeo

Arctic sea ice will shrink to 18% below its 30-year average in 2014, scientists have predicted.

The ice, which melts to its lowest point in September every year, will recede to around 5.4 million square kilometres this year, predict researchers at Reading University.

This is 18% lower than the 1981-2010 average of 6.5 million km sq, although indicates a recovery from the 2012 all-time low of 3.4 million km sq, they said. Last year’s sea ice extent was the sixth lowest on record.

Sea ice is declining as greenhouse gas emissions warm the world’s atmosphere. In the Arctic, temperatures are increasing twice as fast.

“The latest climate models suggest that Arctic sea ice will dwindle as the 21st century progresses,” said Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at Reading University.

“If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current rate it’s likely that the Arctic Ocean will be completely ice-free each summer in around 40 years’ time.”

He added that this decline would not happen smoothly, but would encounter relatively stable periods, as well as years of especially rapid decline.

“The very low level of Arctic ice in 2012 took many people by surprise. If this new forecast is correct, it may indicate that the decline is temporarily in one of these more stable periods,” he said.

El Nino

Scientists forecasted the September sea ice extent by measuring how much of the Arctic’s surface is covered in ‘melt ponds’, which are puddles of water that appear during the spring.

These puddles mean the surface of the ice is less reflective and therefore absorb more heat, causing the ice to melt more as summer sets in.

This is a new and more accurate method of predicting the levels of Arctic ice, say the scientists.

Pic: University of Reading

Pic: University of Reading

But while the Arctic ice may be afforded a slight recovery, overall 2014 could be the hottest year on record, climate scientists predict, due to the high possibility of an El Nino weather phenomenon. The European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts predicts that there is a 90% chance of an El Nino hitting this year.

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