For the first time on records, the main arctic sea ice nursery in Siberia hasn’t started freezing in late October.
The delayed annual freeze in the Laptev Sea was caused by the extremely long heat in northern Russia and the invasion of Atlantic waters, say climate researchers, who warn of possible effects on the entire polar region.
Sea temperatures in the region recently rose to over 5 ° C above average after a record-breaking heat wave and the unusually early retreat of sea ice last winter.
It takes a long time for the trapped heat to get into the atmosphere, even at this time of year when the sun creeps over the horizon a little more than an hour or two each day.
Diagrams of sea ice extent in the Laptev Sea, which usually show a healthy seasonal pulse,
. As a result, there is a record amount of open sea in the Arctic.
Nothing even comes close to 2020 in our records for sea ice along the Siberian #Arctic...— Zack Labe (@ZLabe) October 21, 2020
[*Note that the basin is geographically constrained (same maximum sea ice cover = flat line)] pic.twitter.com/gFelUw3xSq
“The lack of a freeze to date this fall is unprecedented in the Siberian Arctic,” said Zachary Labe, a postdoctoral fellow at Colorado State University. He says this is consistent with the expected effects of man-made climate change.
“2020 is another year compatible with a rapidly changing Arctic. Without a systematic reduction in greenhouse gases, the probability of our first “ice-free” summer will continue to increase by the middle of the 21st century, ”he wrote in an email The guard.
According to a previous study, industrial and agricultural emissions made this year’s Siberian heat wave at least 600 times more likely.
The warmer air temperature isn’t the only factor slowing ice formation. Climate change is also pushing milder Atlantic currents into the Arctic, breaking down the usual stratification between warm, deep water and cooler surface. This also makes it difficult for ice to form.
“This continues a series of very small dimensions. The last 14 years, 2007 through 2020, are the lowest 14 years in the satellite record since 1979, ”said Walt Meier, senior scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. He said much of the old ice in the Arctic is now disappearing, leaving behind thinner seasonal ice. Overall, the average thickness is half what it was in the 1980s.
The downward trend is likely to continue until the Arctic has its first ice-free summer, said Meier. The data and models suggest that this will happen between 2030 and 2050. “It’s a matter of timing, not case,” he added.
Scientists fear the delayed freezing could amplify feedback that accelerates the ice cap’s retreat. It is already known that a smaller ice sheet means less white area to reflect the sun’s heat back into space. However, that’s not the only reason the Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the global average.
The Laptev Sea is known as the birthplace of the ice, which forms there in early winter along the coast and then drifts westward with nutrients over the Arctic before breaking up in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard in spring. If ice forms late in Laptev, it is thinner and therefore more likely to melt before it reaches the Fram Strait. This could mean fewer nutrients for the arctic plankton, which will then be less able to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
More open sea also means more turbulence in the upper layer of the Arctic Ocean, which draws more warm water from the depths.
Stefan Hendricks, a specialist in sea ice physics at the Alfred Wegener Institute, said the sea ice trends are bleak, but not surprising. “It’s more frustrating than shocking. This has been predicted for a long time, but decision makers have received little substantial response. ”
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