Climate Change: Walking on Broken Ice

If they could only build a robust climate model…the following from Canada.com

Forecasts of an ice-free Arctic summer by 2100 may be underestimating climate change trends in the region, new research suggests.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, forecast an ice-free Arctic summer by 2100. But that might happen much earlier, according to research by Pierre Rampal from MIT’s department of Earth, Atmosphere and Planetary Sciences, says an MIT news release on research to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research — Oceans.

IPCC models focused on changes in temperature, which are one way to lose or gain ice. But Rampal said wind and ocean currents also batter the ice, causing it to break up. And ice that’s in small pieces behaves differently than ice in one large mass.  Wind and currents also play a significant role in winter, when they can cause “drastic effects” on the ice’s shape and movement, he said.

As today’s Arctic Ocean winter ice cover is thinner, it breaks up more easily under the influence of winds and currents. So, eventually it looks like an “ensemble of floes” instead of one large mass, Rampal said.  In summer, natural melting due to warmer temperatures opens the door to even more breakup, he said.  However, large cracks in the winter’s ice cover can help create new ice, since the extremely cold air in contact with the liquid ocean promotes refreezing.  This means “it’s hard to predict the future of Arctic sea ice,” said Rampal.  Rampal is working on a project with researchers at MIT and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to combine models and observations which will produce a more accurate picture of what’s happening.

Arctic Ocean to lose ice faster than predicted: MIT, Canada.com, Aug. 10, 2011

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