Home Earth Arctic sea ice recovers – but for how long?

Arctic sea ice recovers – but for how long?

Since the industrial revolution, humans have done their level best to turn the planet into one giant greenhouse. One happy side-effect of that is that eventually, sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic will melt, burying our coastal cities beneath billions of gallons of water. That trend has continued reliably since the 1970s, but researchers from University College London found something curious: In 2013, sea ice volume in the arctic jumped nearly 41%.

While the findings will surely be a tool to cast doubt on the gloom and doom propagated by so-called climate change “alarmists,” no one should be too quick to declare global warming a hoax. The 41% increase was relative to average sea ice volumes from 2010-2012, and it’s looking like 2013 was just a really odd summer.

“The summer of 2013 was much cooler than recent years with temperatures typical of those seen in the late 1990s. This allowed thick sea ice to persist northwest of Greenland because there were fewer days when it could melt. Although models have suggested that the volume of Arctic sea ice is in long term decline, we know now that it can recover by a significant amount if the melting season is cut short,” said Rachel Tilling from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM), UCL Earth & Planetary Sciences.

Temporary as it may be, it is an encouraging finding. To whatever degree Earth’s various and myriad geographic, ecological and meteorological systems combine to maintain some sort of homeostasis, the UCL findings are an indication that given a reprieve, nature is capable of undoing some of the damage done by man.

The UCL study also focuses on a variable not often mentioned in discussions of sea ice: Volume. Most research focuses on extent, or the geographical area covered by sea ice. This is done, mostly, because it’s the easiest way to gauge how much ice is out there. But it’s not a perfect method, as thickness matters a lot. Volume captures that variable, which the team was able to do using something called CryoSat-2.

“Until CryoSat-2 was launched, it was tricky to measure the volume of Arctic sea ice as the pack drifts and measurements could not be taken across the whole region. Together with maps of sea ice extent, our measurements of sea ice thickness now complete the picture because they reveal what’s going on below the water, where most of the action happens,” said miss Tilling.

The CryoSat capability means researchers have a much more accurate idea of how much sea ice is out there, and the 2013 findings mean that for the moment, we’re unlikely to encounter a summer totally free of sea ice. But the researchers believe that temperatures will continue to rise without significant intervention, at which point mother nature’s resiliency will truly be tested.