Expert Forecasts Ice-Free Arctic

A leading polar scientist says global warming will leave the Arctic Ocean virtually devoid of ice within 20 years, posing a severe threat to resident wildlife such as seals and polar bears and affecting the planet's climate stability.
"The data supports the new consensus view — based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition — that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years," said Peter Wadhams a professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge. "Much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years."
The findings add to the chorus of scientists who say waning Arctic ice is one of the clearest indicators of global warming and a call to action for leaders working toward an international climate agreement in Copenhagen later this year.
But the melting trend isn't only a gauge of climate developments: the Arctic Ocean also plays a vital climate regulation role for the entire planet. As seasonal ice melts during the summer months, darker, sunlight-absorbing water is exposed, intensifying global warming's effects. Without ice cover for much of the year, these effects will deepen.
"The Arctic Sea ice holds a central position in our Earth's climate system. Take it out of the equation and we are left with a dramatically warmer world," said Dr Martin Sommerkorn, from the World Wildlife Fund's Arctic program. 

"This could lead to flooding affecting one-quarter of the world's population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions …. and extreme global weather changes."

Published: October 22, 2009